Grown Ups 2 Review

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In a moment of weakness, I actually paid money to see Grown Ups 2, knowing full well what was in store for me.  As the credits rolled, I walked straight out of my showing of Grown Ups and into the first half of Pacific Rim, just to get that metaphorical taste out of my mouth. With that vitriolic opening out of the way, let’s take a closer look at Adam Sandler’s latest charade.

Directed by the incorrigible Dennis Dugan, the man shackled by the neck to the Happy Madison production company and responsible for the vast majority of Sandler flicks within the last 10 years, Grown Ups 2 is frankly exactly what you’d expect. Written by Sandler himself, it’s full of the whiney man-child shtick that we’ve seen since 1995. Perhaps more discouraging, a surprising amount of the comedy relies on fart jokes. I wish I was making that up. A word of advice to comedy writers: when you start to incorporate fart jokes into your movies, it’s time to take a step back from the writing desk and reevaluate your life.

The film stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade as they come to terms with their own children becoming young adults. Grown Ups 2 is kind of a depressing movie, not because of its content, but because it strikes me as a last ditch effort of a group of washed up comedians to stay relevant. We’ve got Sandler, who’s spent his career trying to recapture his pre-1998 glory days; James, who’s popularity was in a downward spiral even at the height of King of Queens; Spade, who’s relevance dropped to nil after Chris Farley died; and Rock, who arguably has the most comedic talent of the group but seems determined not to put it to use. I will say, however, that the one bright spot was Taylor Lautner’s cameo appearance as Andy the frat boy. My guess is that’s he’s just glad to have a job after the whole Twilight Saga debacle and his enthusiasm translates to his on-screen performance.

I can’t think of a single person who thought that the extremely forgettable 2010 Grown Ups deserved a sequel. Not only that, but the story was decidedly wrapped up at the end of that film, and to expand upon it in a bland, directionless mass like this is a disservice to both the actors and the audience. I know there were some people (not me) who thought that This is the End was fantastic, and I can appreciate that, but frankly, I can’t even recommend this movie to those folks. The film is an uninspired mess that seems to exist only to capitalize on the lukewarm success of the original.

Apart from that, there’s simply not a lot to say about a movie like this. You had probably decided whether or not you wanted to see Grown Ups 2 when you saw the first trailer, and I’m here to validate those who opted not to: You didn’t miss anything. Adam Sandler’s career is slowly and steadily going down the drain, and it’s kind of a sad thing to watch. I suppose there’s nothing to do at this point except wait until the next dead-on-arrival Happy Madison flick and, with shame and embarrassment, quietly avert our gaze.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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The Heat Review

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I’ve been watching the release date for this film approach rapidly on the calendar in much the same way that a mariner warily eyes a gathering storm on the horizon. The film’s release date was pushed back two months, leaving me wondering when the damned thing was going to come out, all while being mercilessly assaulted by those horrendous adds. I’m not a huge fan of comedies as it is, and the drawn out marketing campaign had contradictorily filled we with a sense a profound apathy about the film. Nevertheless, I burst into the theater throwing caution to the wind and tried to like it despite my cynical tendencies.

The Heat comes to us from the renown director of such television hits such as The Office, 30 Rock, Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development and others, as well as the 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, Paul Feig. Perhaps more importantly, the writing- with makes or breaks any film, especially comedies- comes from Parks and Recreation writer Katie Dippold. While well cut and impressively paced, it’s abundantly clear that the story took a backseat to the myriad comedy- but more on that in a moment.

Featuring Melissa McCarthy (as she tries to rebound from the unmitigated mess that was Identity Thief) and Sandra Bullock, The Heat focuses on the antics of these two women as they form a close bond while tracking down a rampaging drug dealer. While McCarthy unquestionably shines in the role that she’s tackling, Sandra Bullock could almost have been replaced by anyone and nothing would have been attracted by the film. I had originally thought thought that Tina Fey would have been a much better choice for that role.

Here’s the thing: comedy by nature is generally pretty hit-and-miss and moreover really subjective. That being said, some of the comedy will resonate with some more than others. Like I mentioned before, the plot is the incredibly cliche buddy cop flick that has been made since probably the mid-seventies. It makes sense, then, that Dippold tries to gloss over that fact as much as possible. She frequently takes these massive, kind of disconcerting detours into some comedy sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. On the other hand, however, the comedy (depending on your sensibilities) will likely make up for the poorly constructed plot.

Another, rather strange point that I’d like to draw attention to is the number of times that the narrative goes off on a tangent and shoots for some hugely out of place, emotionally resonant moment. For instance, at one point during the film, Detective Mullins’ (McCarthy) brother, a reformed gang member, is shot and falls into a coma. We see Mullins holding vigil at her brother’s bedside in the hospital, which seems strange because such an intentionally touching and emotionally loaded scene seems to be such a stark departure from the tone of the film up until that point. There are other examples, but other flaws such as an overly-long run time, lackluster acting, and a transparent plot, will probably take precedence.

I cannot say that I would recommend The Heat, but that’s probably because my heart has lost it’s warmth and turned to black obsidian long ago. In all honestly, the vast majority or people will find it an enjoyable experience, but those seeking a well plotted story will be disappointed. Though not nearly as terrible as I assumed it would be, the film fails to deliver where it counts.

Rating 2.5 out of 5

Much Ado About Nothing Review

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Experience has taught us that pulling off contemporary Shakespeare adaptations are phenomenally hard to do as evidenced by the device opinions on both Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. This week, Joss Whedon of Avengers fame steps up to the metaphorical plate as he tackles Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Several things are remarkable about Much Ado About Nothing purely from a production standpoint. For instance, the film was shot entirely at Whedon’s personal estate in Santa Monica, California. Additionally, and due in part to the very intimate scale of the production, filming was completed in just under two weeks- a remarkable timeframe- during Whedon’s contractually obligatory vacation after post-production of The Avengers. 

The film is beautifully directed, and one can tell that Whedon approaches the story with incredible enthusiasm. As is the case with much of Shakespeare’s work, the tempo of the piece is hugely important. Whedon proves that he has a clear vision of not only what the piece is supposed to look like, but he also gives special attention to the rhythm and the beauty of the spoken word. His actors, for the most part, do a masterful job of giving special emphasis to the language of the piece and the many complex and sometimes subtle exchanges between characters.

Starring an ensemble cast and featuring the talents of Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, the film is a beautiful looking, light-hearted comedy with a fanciful, pseudo-noir feel. The trifecta of Denisof, Gregg and Kranz steal every scene they’re in and bring a fundamentally human element to Shakespeare’s sometimes unintelligibly highbrow dialogue. Performances were generally exceptional all around and were only dimmed by the only slightly stilled portrayals of the antagonists, Don John and Borachio.

I’ve heard it said that the style of the film- black and white with some chic and jazzy aesthetics- did nothing to serve the narrative and ultimately detracted from the experience. My thoughts, however, are the opposite. To me, it seems as though Whedon’s choice of a monochromatic color scheme is intended to allow the audience to focus more on the language and dialogue of the piece, rather be distracted by the set dressing. Speaking from my own personal experience, Shakespearian dialogue is often devilishly hard to understand, especially when we’re being introduced to new characters. Another possible reason for the aesthetic choices are to establish a tone of semi-fantasy- almost to a degree of magical realism. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, you’ll find that some pretty incredible things end up happening- things that might make more sense within the context of a sort of fanciful, magical world. Therefore, I believe Whedon’s choice was not only innovative, but practical as well.

I understand that the prospect of sitting through a two hour, black and white production filled with Shakespearian dialogue may be off-putting for some viewers, but I assure you that your fears are unfounded. Whedon’s interpretation of this classic comedy is smart, fun, expertly paced, beautiful looking, brilliantly acted, and genuinely funny. Much Ado About Nothing has made it’s way, quite unexpectedly, to my top films of the year and fully deserves and resounding recommendation.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Pain and Gain Review

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Every now and then you’ll see a movie that will alter how you view a certain actor or director. Sometimes it’s for the best, while at other times you may consider driving to Hollywood to throw eggs at the offender’s car. In an unprecedented turn of events, I might now be able to excuse Michael Bay for some of his more obtuse faults after having seen Pain and Gain. Mind blowing, right? Well, while you’re busy scraping up your skull fragments, I’ll tell you why.

Michael Bay’s opinion of the general public seems to be that they’ll lapse into a coma if they’re not stimulated by explosions and the promise of tits every ten minutes, a mindset that certainly remains strong throughout Pain and Gain, but this time, there seems to be an underlying theme of self-parody and irony involved. Anyone already familiar with Bay’s work will quickly spot his fingerprints. His characteristic action sequences and fight scenes return, and he seizes every opportunity to explode something on-screen with rather worrying enthusiasm. Alas, this is Bay we’re talking about after all, so I would be more surprised if that kind of thing were absent.

These last few have been very busy years for my beloved Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and I am very happy to report that he’s finally hitting his stride. After having muddled his way through action flick after action flick, some much worse than others, Johnson as oblivious bodybuilder Paul Doyle is his best performance to date. Due in part to the fact that The Rock is a roided-up slab of meat in real life, he likely had a clear understanding of who the character was and where he was supposed to go with it. It was a riot to see him transition from a ex-con holy roller to a barely functioning coke fiend, and his antics provided hugely comedic payoffs. Mark Wahlberg as ringleader Dany Lugo likewise gives a great performance, though he too is likely playing a character similar to his own personality. By that, I mean he seems to be the perfect fit for that peculiar ‘bro’ archetype, which in all likelihood isn’t that far off from his real life persona. Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub (Monk) also makes an appearance as the phenomenally sleazy Victor Kershaw. Shalhoub holds nothing back in his depiction of Kershaw, and by the end of the film, he becomes a character that we love to hate and are almost glad that he gets what’s coming to him.

At it’s core, Pain and Gain is a comedy, not an action film. In this particular case, however, irony is the name of the game. Every aspect of the film has been calculated to achieve the height of it’s ironic effect. The score, for instance, is heavily dramatic which clashes with the moronic antics of the goofballs on-screen. The alleged role models of the protagonist are all a 12 year old’s worldview, ignorantly filled with hyper-masculine meatheads, not to mention the fact that they’re all fictional characters. The mantra of the protagonist- his combined motivation and justification for committing such terrible crimes- is taken straight from a self help informercial. The list goes on, but the main point to remember is that if you’re headed into Pain and Gain for the mega macho action, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.

In a departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is a much more character driven story, and it does a surprisingly good job of making sure that the audience is invested in the stories of each of the three protagonist. In another unprecedented departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is also quite good. The wonderfully successful comedy is balanced with Bay’s signature action in all the right places, which is in turn balanced by some definitely not unwelcome character building where it counts. In the end, Pain and Gain hugely fun and entertaining film and makes for a great time at the movies. Bay is by no means forgiven for making Transformers, but perhaps now I can consider him karmically neutral.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Short Film Sunday #1: Lily and Jim



Hello once again, people of the internet. After a long day mostly filled with the compulsive and unhealthy watching of far too many short films, I came up with the brilliant idea of spreading the beauty of the medium to the unwashed masses via a weekly column on this humble website of ours. This incredible art form has been undercut for too long, and I plan to give it some long overdo exposure. So, with this noble goal in mind, I bring you the first ever Short Film Sunday.

I’ve found that in the modern era of the internet and any number of other newfangled contraptions there’s a pervasive problem with forming actual connections. We may be in the same room or even sitting across from one another, but it seem like it’s harder than ever to actually build up the courage and put yourself out there to form an actual link with another human being. It’s this ever present idea that Don Hertzfeldt attacks with his brilliant short film, Lily and Jim.

Presented in a low budget style akin to the doodles and scribbles that are no doubt familiar to any high schooler who’s ever been bored during math class, Lily and Jim presents the story of the world’s most awkward blind date, ever. The titular characters are so immobilized by their own insecurities and fears that they are unable to connect in any real way, instead spiting out meaningless and really quite awkward small talk. They’re just trying to find someone to be with, but they’re just so incapable that it all at once becomes hilarious and tragic. They both sit there wanting the same thing, just to connect, to not be alone, but they can’t, none of them will take that first step and really put themselves out there. Instead they soak in their own self loathing and neuroticism and end up where they started, alone.

In may way this kind of thing is exactly why I love short films. In these short 13 minutes Don Hertzfeldt is able to build an illuminating microcosm of modern relationships, showing us how much we vie for human contact but tragically sabotage ourselves in a vain effort to not be hurt. It achieves something that most films can’t even get close to in their lofty 120 minute run-times. By simplifying and shortening he’s able to deliver a clear picture without any of the bloat inherent to many feature length films. It really is quite amazing and something that people shouldn’t underestimate for its short film moniker.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #8: In the Loop

As an avid movie goer, it always seems difficult to find a balance between intelligence and laugh out loud humor in comedies.  With that in mind, this week’s Netflix Movie of the Week is In the Loop, a British political satire from the people who are currently making the HBO show Veep. Poking fun of all the political nonsense that has been going on in recent year regarding involvement in the Middle East, In the Loop is a hilarious and over the top portrayal of what is wrong with modern government, or specifically the people who run it.

In the Loop is about a run of the mill government bureaucrat, Simon Foster, a minister of international development, who without thinking says he believes “war is unforeseeable” to a news reporter.  After scrambling to recover from the fallout of his gaff, Foster, the easily angered Malcom Tucker (Peter Capaldi), and a handful of interns travel to Washington D.C. to discuss the idea of British Military support for conflict in the Middle East.  While this all may sound incredibly dry, this movie is simply hilarious, lampooning the failings of modern politics while providing some of the wittiest, characteristically British dialogue I have seen in a good while.

The cast of this film is also pretty brilliant, and through a combination of strong comedic actors and writing, they are able to keep the movie moving at a decent pace, where this movie goes beyond simply being clever yet not actually funny, a problem that many satires suffer from.  This is not just a movie that you will smirk through, it is a legitimate comedy and not just a movie made for the purpose of making a statement.  If anything, the movie just breeds the feeling that most of the bureaucratic government system is completely absurd.  If you like this movie or think it is something you’d like, I would also recommend Veep, it is pretty similar and also a very solid comedy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #6: Lars and the Real Girl

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Originally a film I wrote off under the impression it would be a crude, and likely bad, comedy due to its premise, Lars and the Real Girl is far from it, but instead is a touching and generally sweet film about a reclusive and strange, or perhaps eccentric, man and his fake girlfriend.  Extremely well-acted and written, Lars and the Real Girl manages to capitalize on a premise that could have created a terrible film in less capable hands.  Emotional, quirky and above all heartwarming, Lars and the Real Girl is an example of an excellent feel-good movie if there ever was one, and this week’s choice for Netflix Movie of the Week.

Staring Ryan Gosling in a vastly different role than fans have seen before, Lars and the Real Girl depicts the life of Lars, an extremely shy shut-in living in the garage of his brother’s house.  Unexpectedly, Lars purchases a Real Doll, a sex doll made to look like an actual woman, but instead of buying her for that purpose, Lars views the doll, Bianca, as his girlfriend.  He is seemingly unaware of the fact that she is a doll, as he pushes her around town in a wheelchair, has conversations with her, and is unwilling to accept the fact she is not real, leading people in town to speculate on his mental well-being   While I cannot emphasize enough how this movie succeeds with this premise, it is easy to see my hesitation about watching this film as it could have easily turned to a vulgar and cheap comedy based around a sex doll.

Oddly enough, this was the movie that made me recognize Ryan Gosling’s talents as an actor.  While I had seen other films he had been in, I felt he was often typecasted as the typical good-looking male lead. However, he does such a wonderful job in this film convincing the audience that he is a weird, awkward, and shy individual, while creating a very believable relationship with an inanimate object that I would be remiss not to admire his acting chops.  It would be hard for me to imagine another actor in this role after seeing the film.

Even if the premise is not enough to compel you to watch this film, I would recommend you give it a chance.  It is somewhat of a cult favorite with the indie movie going crowd and is that way for a reason, because it is good.  If nothing else, the movie is worth a watch to see Ryan Gosling trying something new in his acting career, and doing it with an excellent moustache.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5