Monday, February 20, 2012

Young Adult




I have a superstition that a studio's confidence in a film can often be determined by length of the movie's Wikipedia page. Young Adult's Wikipedia is about 800 words long if you subtract links and other website jibba jabba. The recent Muppets has about 5000 words. The reason for invoking this completely unscientific ponderment of mine is because I'm a big fan of Director Jason Reitman, so this short wiki, not a week out from the release, was a bit odd to me.
And now I know why. “Young Adult” is shallow and awful, and, ha ha, has all the depth of a young adult novel about vampires. Except all the sucking is done by the film itself, and not the people in it.
Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) is a young adult novelist. She's writing a series of declining in popularity tween books about an upper crust prep school and how great it is to be popular… like, totally. She feeds on E! Reality television, and the fried chicken at KenTacoHut. That's a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut rolled into one for the even moderately healthy eaters out there. But anyway, she receives a forwarded e-mail from former, now-married, flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his baby.
Perhaps due to the ticking of some sort of biological clock, she decides now is a good a time as any to head back to her old hometown, win back her ex-boyfriend, complete that pesky novel, and live happily ever after with nary a care for anyone else's feelings, lives, or reality.
Her first night back she sets a date for a drink with Buddy, right before running into the doughy Matt (Patton Oswald). Matt is something of a town celebrity, because in high school he was beaten half to death by a bunch of “Jocks” for being gay. Of course Matt is not gay, but I suppose that's hindsight for you. As a result Matt has a bum leg, walks with a crutch (not a metaphor at all) and apparently his naughty bits have been re-arranged into something out of a Picasso painting.
Diablo Cody writes Matt as what she thinks the nerdy fat kids she never talked to in high school would be like today. She's probably never talked to one (or cared to talk to one) until writing the script, submitting it, and then realizing they'll have to cast an actual fat actor for that role. Oswald is in this movie primarily to say things like “I'm a fat geek” and “Guys like me were born loving girls like you” and to have oddball hobbies, like fabricating a makeshift distillery or re-assembling action figures with pieces from other action figures just because.
Cody couldn't even be bothered to research the fact that the people who build and paint action figures in the manner in which Jeff does, use them to play elaborate board games (think Risk on steroids). Not just to put Captain America's head on Iron Man's body cause they're bored, lonely and fat. Anyone who's seen a movie about an outwardly ugly duckling, and inwardly ugly swan, knows where this is going. When it gets there, and Mavis and Matt reach the...ha ha...climax of their association with one another, it's...nothing.
A friend of mine got a chance to attend a Q&A with Director Jason Reitman about this specific film. Reitman explained that the movie is, in a way about how people can come so close, so very close, to changing but never do. I find this premise flawed, as I do most films where a character has an inspirational moment and changes completely: they'll stop smoking pot, drinking with his friends ( I'm mostly referencing Judd Apatow movies here) but my point is, I don't like spending 11 dollars of my hard earned money to watch characters change all of a sudden… or worse, not change at all.



Yes, sometimes an arc can complete itself by arriving back at the beginning (The Aviator), or reminding us a character may not have changed as much we think (Bat Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans). Something of significance needs to happen to keep the audience entertained, or fulfilled.

My question is who is this movie for? Fans of Jason Reitman will be shamed for being in the same theater in which this morality tale minus the moral is playing. Fans of Patton Oswald will be annoyed by his simplistic character and his function as an if-everything-else-goes-wrong-at-least-there's-the-chubster-with-a-heart-of-gold parachute for Mavis.

Fans of Diablo Cody, of which there are many, will probably enjoy the humor and adorable puppy. But, nothing goes anywhere and the movie ends almost exactly like the IFC film Super, except with zero satisfaction. No character development or resolution. Patton Oswald literally disappears from the film after his arc is completed. His arc by the way boils down to being the fat guy who gets to have sex with the pretty girl. Yeah… a completely one-dimensional resolution.

Considering the bad dialog (particularly for Oswald's character), weak message, and emptiness of the whole thing, I don't feel so bad writing the following sentence. Simply put, Young Adult is immature.

*Oswald's film "Big Fan" can be seen on Netflix Instant an is a far more rewarding picture. 


A Very Harold And Kumar 3D Christmas




When the first Harold and Kumar came out in 2004, it was sort of a breath of fresh air from the Apatow comedies that were popular at the time. It was a road picture, it was irreverent, it was determined to make you laugh in any way it could. The manic energy of the two leads, and the fact the entire movie was about making it to a white-castle because your stoned, was the sort of silly concept that really captured the clouded imaginations of stoners everywhere.
The beauty of the Harold and Kumar films is the way in which they find their heart. In the first, their trip to White Castle was a metaphor for self actualization, particularly Harold’s. The second was more doing whatever it takes for the one you love, and this third one is very much about how sometimes we can’t stand the people that are best to have around us.
It’s some years after Harold and Kumar have escaped from Guantanamo Bay.  Harold (John Cho) is happily married to the smoking hot Maria, has a nice house, and is trying to start a family. Really the only caveat in Harold’s life is the fact Maria’s family, about a dozen or so Mexican stereotypes,  are coming into town for the holidays. Maria’s dad (Danny Treo) is not a big fan of Mr. Harold, letting a variety of racist comments slip out from under his breath. Meanwhile, Kumar  is the same stoner he’s always been, just now that he’s in his 30’s this is no longer cute, but actually sort of pathetic. The girlfriend he fought so hard for in the second film, left him, and surprise, is pregnant.
The plot is, as always, is inconsequential, this time revolving around Harold and Kumar desperately attempting to find the perfect Christmas tree to appease Maria’s dad while running afowl of some Russian mobsters, befriending a waffle making robot, and showing us one huge clay-mated wang.
The movie hammers home this sort of ying and yang approach to Harold and Kumar, how Harold keeps Kumar grounded, and Kumar keeps Harold loose and assertive.  At one point in the movie Harold explains to Kumar how Maria’s dad is VERY serious about his Christmas tree, and Kumar without hesitation tells Harold to tell Maria’s dad to go take a long walk off a short pier, if you catch my drift. They need each other.
About  four  years ago I remember a scene in my life a lot like the one that closes this film. On my back porch I shared an herbal cigarette with a close friend on Christmas eve. It had been a weird year. He was dating my ex-girlfriend, I was moving to Chicago, and our lives had grown so different any conversation outside of what video game to play or what type of beer to buy was received with blank looks. I didn’t care about his truck; he didn’t care about my writing. But as we shared a green Christmas in the snow, aware we’d never be the same or able to relate to each other the way we had in the past, at the least, we knew we’d always have doobie.
Thus like that friendship, “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas” Isn’t as fresh as the first two entries in the series and while it still means well, is losing steam. The NPH cameo isn’t quite as epic (but happily plays off his new found success), the set pieces aren’t as elaborate and don’t match the hilarity of the “No Pants” party from the second film, or the delight of the hang glider escape in the first. Heck, the subplot involving Reno 911 alum Tom Lennon, the Amir fellow from Collegehumor.com,  and a drugged up toddler takes place almost entirely in a closet.
But ultimately I think this is quality Holiday entertainment. It’s about friends and warmth, and going the extra mile for those you love, and if your friends are a bit too old for Elf, and a bit too…innocent for Bad Santa, I like to this film fits somewhere in between.   



Texas Killing Fields


“Texas Killing Fields” is practical. It's effective. It hits the notes necessary. But in the end it's simply unsatisfying. “Texas Killing Fields” then, is like getting socks for Christmas. Or rather, it's like being disappointed by socks for Christmas.

On the surface, “Texas Killing Fields” is about two detectives, Mike (Sam Worthington) and Brian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) who solve murders in the depths of the rural Texas. Texas is a character in this film, make no doubt about it. The Texas presented in this movie is the kind of Texas that could find itself in a Jeff Foxworthy routine: Rust, dead trees, mud, sweat, missing teeth, and moonshine.

I really like the idea of Jeffery Dean Morgan and Sam Worthington on screen together, and the casting of the two actors in these specific roles deserves all the credit in the world. Morgan plays Brian as a Teddy Bear away from the picnic. He's a religious man from New York. This is mostly so characters can say the same two things in about a dozen ways. The first is “God has no place in the fields” and the second is “you don't understand Texas, you're a Yankee”. He's also taken Little Anne (Chloe Grace Moretz) under his wing, and it appears this is what he enjoys most about being a police officer: helping those in need.

Worthington is given a little less to work with, as his back-story is mostly implied. His Detective Mike is recently divorced from Detective Pamela Stall (Jessica Chastain) and grew up among the various...idiosyncrasies rural Texas has a habit of harboring, including a subtly implied history with local creepy yokels Rhino (Stephen Graham) and Eugene (James H├ębert).

All the roles are well acted, the characters who are supposed to be unsettling are, the heroes are heroes, and I cannot say enough about Jeffery Dean Morgan's uncanny ability to look like a wounded puppy even while holding a shotgun.

Then the plot happens. While “Texas Killing Fields” was in pre-production, 127 hours director Danny Boyle said that the film was far too dark of a drama to ever be produced. Yes. The guy who made the movie about the guy who cuts his arm off exclaimed that “Texas Killing Fields” was too dark and twisted for his tastes. This excited me immensely. I love my southern fried justice disturbed, twisted, and if possible, based on true events. So it's a shame that “Texas Killing Fields” is a bit of a cop-out plot wise, despite being based on some true events.

The plot, Mike and Brain are on the case of a serial killing tandem. And early on things are chilling, especially after Mike and Brian listen in on a 911 call in which a woman cries out for help as she's murdered. There's another early scene where Mike and Brian work quickly to preserve a dead body from an impending rain storm. Mike is eager to take the pictures, cover the body, and tip on out. Instead, Brian sits for a moment with the corpse and delivers last rites. Mike tries to get his attention, but stops after a half second, realizing that this ritual is important to Brian.

I wanted more of these moments in the film. Instead I can't remember very many moments at all. The things that affected me most were performances of actors in specific scenes. I can't relate to you the details of the plot or the sub textual nature of the script, because it went in one ear and out the other. It legitimately feels like Director Amy Mann was scared to dive into the depths of what a shattered human soul is capable of.

Take for example the arc of Brian. He's out of his element in Texas, and it shows throughout the movie. His hair becomes a little less combed, his facial hair a little more gruff, oh and he keeps getting hit in the head every few scenes, so he's bleeding and bruised a lot. On paper I love this idea. I love the idea of a cop on the edge, and it works especially well if the cop on the edge is a believable human being, which Brian is. However, this plot line is ruined by the ending of the film. After all the talk of religion and God, I was expecting him to Martyr himself for the cause, giving himself to the state that ruined him in exchange for the life of or lives of the innocent. 

I'm reminded about a half dozen movies that are way better than this one, and oddly almost all of them star Tommy Lee Jones. “No Country for Old Men”, “In the Valley of Ellah”, and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrad” all come to mind as far better alternatives. These films are not afraid to rip your heart out and stamp on it to give you real consequence and real insight and a real window in a world that is often times so very different from the one we know. But instead, like Christmas socks, “Texas Killing Fields” ends up with a bow on it that no one really wanted.

"What's Your Number?"




“What's Your Number” first looked to be a movie about how silly magazines like Cosmo craze typically well adjusted women into believing (or trying) ridiculous things in the name of romance and passion. The flip side of this is that these sorts of magazines can also make women believe they are weird, or fat, or slutty. It's the latter in “What's Your Number” a romantic comedy for I'm-not-sure who that manages to delight anyhow. 
Things pick up with Ally (Anna Faris) dumping her boyfriend, getting fired, dealing with her overbearing mother, and realizing she's had the most sexual partners (20) among her group of friends. This is a problem because Ally has read a study that claims that a woman who has had over 20 sexual partners is statistically far less likely to get married than those with less.
So, Ally has the great idea of tracking down all her ex-boyfriends, thinking that maybe she could re-connect with one of her exes, thus keeping her number under 20 and the goal of a happy marriage a bit more attainable.
Ally manages to track down these ex-boyfriends by way of her womanizing neighbor, Colin (Chris Evans), whose dad is a cop and has thus inherited a knack for searching people out. Colin is the kind of stud where every part of his body seems to be sprouting perfectly styled facial hair.
They grow together as Ally looks up the people from her past, and with each subsequent name off the list, Colin becomes more of a possibility, as he's there to support and care for her in her moments of weakness.The movie is made by their chemistry, and Evans is believable as the kind of guy who would openly discuss sleeping with Ally despite her insistence they would not, and Anna Faris comes across as the kind of goofy / sexy that would happily and proudly enjoy the naughty pleasures in life.
However, the movie is entirely unmotivated. Beyond the simple plot and message, any sort of directing, or stylisic choices are there simply as garnish. Ally is in marketing, but we don't know what she does or what she does for money once she's fired. This movie is set in Boston and no one has a Boston accent. This is a professionally made movie, and they couldn't get one guy to do a f*hkin' Bahstan accent? It's weird because the director ends the entire movie on a shot of the boston skyline. That's not to say it features bad performances or a lack of plot or good writing, it's just everything seems a bit off.
I can't fathom how this movie came together or who it is for. It features a gratuitous amount of implied nudity from both Anna Faris and Chris Evans, and I have visions of Anna Farris's agent reading the script and rolling his or her eyes every time Anna was featured in some sort of frilly underwear. I don't know if it's a problem or not when I found myself wanting to yell at the screen “Put some pants on that girl!” toward the middle of the film. But I imagine since the majority of movie goers will be couples, the collective body image of the theater will likely fall about 17 points after an hour and a half of Chris Evan's happy trail.
The movie isn't bad, it's actually very funny and sweet and hits all the notes and emotions you'd except from a typical romantic comedy, but with a non-traditional premise and non-traditional message, it's almost heart breaking to see the typical hollywood tropes arrive to gunk up what could have been much much more. 
But I guess this is one of those “sexy” movies. it's raunchy in a verbal way, and everyone just seems to be in love with the word that I used to think was Virginia until 5th grade. Really. This happened in “Horrible Bosses”, too. Where, in order to give the boring talking scenes some spice in the beginning of the movie, characters will toss around just really vulgar language for no particular reason. If counting, I ran out of fingers and toes before I ran out of Virginias. And don't even get me started on Pensacolas.
“What's Your Number” is friendly and warm and uplifting and a rally call for those of us with larger than life libedos. The people we've been with and the people we will be, and the fact remains it matters and always will because the eyes of judgement almost always fall to the waist line and the always dangerous territory of romantic history. Is 19 a high number? I guess. Is 12.50 too much to pay for this movie, I don't think so. You'll get just about your money's worth.  

Dolphin Tale A Whale Of A Time For Kiddies





Do me a favor, locate your local corporate coffee shop chain and nab five sugar packets. Thanks. I'd like you to go ahead and pour all those sugar packets down your throat simultaneously. Okay, so, how's that feel? Weird right? The combination of guilt because you're a dirty, dirty thief, and sweetness overload from the sugar packets, is about the same the feeling you leave “A Dolphin Tale” with.

“A Dolphin Tale” is a sugary sweet family friendly tale that isn't going to rock your world. There's no inspirational soundtrack like with "Free Willy" or an adorable puppy that does cute puppy things like in "Air Bud" or a delicious menu like any of the “Beethoven” movies. To be honest Dolphins are sorta creepy looking creatures, with beady little eyes and funky little holes in the top of their head. Ick.

13 year-old Nathan Gamble is quite good as Sawyer, an eager young boy failing his classes, still torn up inside after his father abandoned the family a few years ago. After learning his cousin is enlisting in the military (You know what they say about a military enlistment in the first act…), all hope seems lost for young Sawyer.

Thankfully a Dolphin practically kills itself on a lobster trap, washes up on the beach and forlorn and failing Sawyer happens upon the sea creature, a friendly nearby old man calls animal rescue on his cell phone, and the Dolphin is whisked away to be saved or turned into some sort of delicious soup. Eventually Sawyer finds out where they keep Winter, he sneaks in, meets a cast of marine biologists including Kris Kristofferson and Harry Connick Jr, as well as Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorf) who is a not quite love interest.


Meanwhile, Sawyer is having issues at home with failing classes, and Momma (Ashley Judd) is having trouble connecting with her son, but is wooed by the way of the dolphin and the community of biologists. Sadly The Dolphin (Winter) has its tail amputated, and it's a race against time, budget, and biology to save this single majestic creature from swimming itself dead. This is where Morgan Freeman comes in, in case you're wondering.

Director Charles Martin Smith gives us enough visual garnish that eases a lot of the silly dialog and interactions between characters, including runaway helicopters and a pelican with a superb comedic timing. Additionally, The underwater visuals are great, including some cool “POV” shots from the perspective of the Dolphin. Additionally several montages feature some cool 3D effects, more than likely to keep the kiddies entertained.

What he does especially well is fill us with a sense of charm right off the bat. All the characters mean well, no one is trying to scare us (Like in the beginning of Free Willy) or gross us out (Like in the beginning of Free Willy) or preach to us (Like in Free Willy). Okay that's a lie. The movie is a touch preachy, and appears to be quite in favor of homeschooling of all things. Weird.

So who would like this movie? Well, young children may get bored during the scenes not featuring the dolphin, of which there are some. Older adults are going to be rolling their eyes (with admitted begrudged fondness) all the way to the credits, and teenagers forced to go with the family are going to be real mad because Moneyball is in the theater down the hall.

But the fact this is a mostly true story makes A Dolphin Tale a truly inspirational *sigh* tale, and the real life documentary footage at the end of the movie leaves at least a superficial smile on your face.

I hesitate to call the movie quality junk food entertainment, because there is a lesson and morals to be taken from these proceedings, but almost a century of Lassies, homeward bound journeys, air buds, cats and dogs, freed Willys, and that stupid movie about the fat seal, have left my adorable inspirational animal quotient filled. We've seen this plot before, change out the animal, the calamity, and you have every animal movie ever made.

It's hard for me to personally get behind an animal inspiration story sometimes, especially when there are so many real life human beings in need of it more. Then again, Dolphin's can't sell streetwise to get themselves going again.

But just because I've been here and done this, doesn't mean you have. If you have young children that are a little more inquisitive than most, and have a passion for animals, take them to see “A Dolphin Tale” it may just inspire them in the way only a movie can. If you have an adorably sweet girlfriend or boyfriend, who enjoys laughing at corny movies and cooing at cute animals, take them to see a Dolphin tale. If you are an adorably sweet lady who enjoys laughing at corny movies and cooing at cute animals. Call me immediately.


Just don't be surprised if all that candy you buy at the box office appears sour compared to the pure sugarcane on screen.