Monday, December 31, 2012

The 10 Best and Worst Movies of 2012



2012 was a strange year for movies, but then again, maybe it wasn't.  We saw some of the best chunk of films in the back half of the year (as is normal for any given year), but there were no definitive Academy Award winning movies released as the last few years.  I mean, come on, did anyone see The Artist not winning best picture.  But, what was special about this year were the Academy Award worthy movies that came out in the beginning to middle of the year too.  There were also a TON of terrible movies.  Most of which do not show up on my worst list because I have the common sense to avoid them.

Let me be clear... these aren't the Best and Worst movies of the year, just the best and worst of what I saw.  I was unfortunate not to have seen some films that I really wanted to see such as Compliance, The Impossible, Hitchcock, etc.  But for those worthy/terrible ten that I managed to see... I am here to recognize them.  Let's begin with the best.

Top Ten BEST Films of 2012:

10.  TIE!!!  The Dark Knight Rises/The Cabin in the Woods

 











Okay, I realize that I said there were only ten best, but in making this list I couldn't pick only ten.  These two movies couldn't just be left on the list in the Honorable Mention section.  The Dark Knight Rises was a great film.  Sure, it wasn't as good as its predecessor, but how could you make it better?  Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker will go down in cinematic history as one of the greatest villains of all time.  But, Christopher Nolan did a fine job in wrapping up the series.  Sure, it may have been a half hour too long, but it satisfied all need for an ending.  Bane was a worthy adversary, Catwoman stole the scenes she was in.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as usual.  Nolan will probably end up on these lists from now until he stops making movies.  There's no denying this movie was good.

The Cabin in the Woods, however, was a favorite horror movie of mine.  I dare you to find a more inventive and creative horror movie out there.  It took conventional horror plots, scenarios, characters, tropes and put them up against something truly hilarious and scary to watch.  I haven't had that much fun at the movies in a long time.  That's why it had to make my list.

9. Lawless















Lawless made the list because not only was it one of my favorite movies of 2012, but it was one of the more surprisingly good movies of 2012.  I had always wanted to see it, but never expected it to be as great as it was.  The acting, the characters, the story was all put into the collective pot of film heaven.  There are some scenes that are truly hard to watch, but its intensity is where it finds its strength.  Definitely a long-time favorite.  You can see the full review here.

8. Argo
 















Argo has not only made my best list of 2012 but it seems to be making its rounds on a lot of more credible film reviewer's lists.  As well it should.  This movie has to be one of the most tense movies to come out in a while.  I knew what would end up happening because of the true history of the story, but I was still on the edge my seat the entire time.  Ben Affleck definitely displays his directorial abilities once again and shows us that while being in front of the camera is still hit or miss, he's definitely needed behind it.  Review here.

7. Moonrise Kingdom
 












I love Wes Anderson.  His quirky way of writing dry humor along with his regulars he casts in his films that are the perfect personification of that writing (more notably Bill Murray) is a refreshing delight when it comes to what's considered comedies these days.  This story is unconventional in its portrayal of young love, but its a wonderful story full of beautifully cheeky characters and terrific writing.  If you're a Wes Anderson fan, I highly recommend this film.

6. Silver Linings Playbook
 














Again, it's difficult to find good comedies these days that aren't about who can say the most raunchy thing for a laugh that's practically begged for.  Good comedies start off by good writing and good acting.  Silver Linings Playbook is by far one of the best comedies of the year and it's going to be one of the most under appreciated, I feel.  Bradley Cooper is not Hangover-ing it up.  He's a real guy with real problems that lead to real emotion and real laughs.  Jennifer Lawrence is also spectacular is the equally messed up counterpart to Cooper.  One of the funniest and most heartfelt movies of the year.  Review here.

5. Looper
 














As far as sci-fi and action goes, it's difficult to find ones with actual plot with characters you care about.  Sure, there are a lot of fun ones, but they most fall into the abyss of forgettable.  Not Looper.  Director/Writer Rian Johnson takes the typical time-traveling future storyline and turns it into something new and exciting.  You care about each person you're watching, you're hoping each one succeeds even when the plans of succession could ruin the other person's plan.  You hope for the best but expect the worst.  It's a fun movie that allows you to invest yourself in each character, which is a rarity for this genre.  Review here.

4. Flight
 










Not only was Flight one of my favorites of the year because it brought the return of director Robert Zemeckis to live action form, but we actually got to see the acting chops we knew Denzel was hiding for years.  Just as Zemeckis was hiding in the animation world, Denzel had been hiding in safe action-movie Tony Scott world.  And while we had a blast watching Denzel in action mode, there was a yearning for Training Day Denzel to make a comeback.  Flight brings about, what I believe to be his finest acting I've ever seen.  As the pilot who saves the lives of hundreds of people, but with a darker side, is just terrific and terrifying to watch unfold.  I truly loved this movie and believe it is worth a look by almost anyone.  Review here.

3. Django Unchained
 














Having just written my review of this movie, there's not many more ways I can praise it other than being the balls-to-the-wall epic spaghetti western masterpiece we all knew would come from Quentin Tarantino.  Any and all reservations were squashed within the first five minutes of the film.  Any hesitancy on the part of the viewer to see the movie due to Jamie Foxx given the title character are out the window by the first half hour.  There are no more words to say other than get your ass to the theater and see it.  If you've already seen it, go again.  Review here.

2. Seven Psychopaths
 














Hands down the funniest movie of the year.  This meta-comedy showcases some of the most hilarious moments of film with a collection of some of our favorite actors just being able let themselves go and have a lot of fun.  Even Colin Farrell doesn't feel out of place here.  He plays the straight man better than anyone else could've in the role.  It is a near-perfect movie, with countless laughs.  It's one of those films that once its over you want to start it and watch it all over again.  Review here.

1. Les Miserables
 












I'm sure this comes as no to surprise to, well, anyone.  But, yes, Les Miserables was my favorite movie of 2012.  I apologize if this seems like a cop out, but it was amazing.  The performances, the translation from stage to screen, all of it far exceeded my expectations.  Give it a chance.  I promise, it's hard to hate the movie.  And while I'm sure hardly anyone will love it as much as I did, it's still one of the best movies of the year.  Maybe I'm too biased for you, but there wasn't a single movie that moved me all year like this one did.  It's gorgeous, it's heartbreaking, it's majestic, and it's my favorite film of 2012.  The invitation is still open to anyone who wants to see it.  I'll be right there.  Review here.

HONORABLE MENTION: Lincoln, Safety Not Guaranteed, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Savages

Top Ten WORST Films of 2012:

10. Dark Shadows
 














I didn't particularly hate Dark Shadows per se, it was just a huge let down. It felt like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton realized they didn't have a movie planned for 2012 so they quickly rustled together a sloppy story, with sloppy writing and directing and tried to come up with something, rather than just realize there are much better stories to tell.  It didn't exactly know what it wanted to be.  It wasn't that funny.  It wasn't that dramatic.  It wasn't that scary.  It just was.  And that makes a movie fail, in my opinion.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
 












Man, did this movie piss me off.  I was expecting this film to break ground.  Be the coming of age movie we've been waiting for since John Hughes.  But, when Mean Girls, a film starring Lindsay Lohan packs more of an emotional and realistic punch than this heap of trash did, then you know you have a problem.  Packed with stereotypical characters, who have nothing more to say than cliched things, this film was agonizing each second.  If you'd like to get a fuller explanation, I suggest going here.

8. Prometheus
 














I had a hard time with this one.  I really didn't want to include it on the list because there were far worst movies of 2012.  However, none of them let me down as much as Prometheus.  I had such high hopes for this movie.  It looked incredible and with Ridley Scott at the help, the man who brought us the original Alien movie, how could expectations not be high?  But, in the end, there was so much going on, not a single character anyone could really care about, it was just a jumbled mess of a movie that couldn't decide which direction to go in.  It wasn't the worst movie of 2012 by far, but it certainly had to have been the most disappointing.

7. Total Recall
 














Expectations being high wasn't a problem with this remake.  I love the original Total Recall, as campy as it is, the camp and the fun of Arnold lends to the fun of the movie.  Well, no worries here folks, if you didn't like the fun of the original there is certainly no fun whatsoever in the remake.  Each character is hollow and the only thing anyone in the movie seems to do is jump from rooftop to rooftop.  Seriously, there should be a drinking game to this movie.  Every time someone is being chased and jumps from one rooftop to another, take a shot.  You'd be drunk in the first half hour.  Director Len Wisemen essentially directed this movie or order to let his wife do badass stunts in which she wasn't a vampire for a change.  But, seriously, who cares?  This movie never should've been made, and everyone knows it.

6. Paranormal Activity 4
 















Paranormal Activity 4 is a prime example of lazy film making.  With a new film coming out each year, they're not all going to be perfect.  Writing deadlines I'm sure are stressful and having the time to be more creative and inventive is simply not given.  But, they could at least try to scare us once or twice, no?  There's nothing even remotely tense in this film.  It's boring.  It's predictable.  And it's most likely a sign that the franchise is swiftly running out of steam.  I'm still going to see the fifth one, in hopes that they realize their mistakes, but don't be surprise if the franchise begins to fizzle out in the next few years.  Review here.

5. A Thousand Words
 














Alright, alright, I know.  I know I should never have wasted my time with this movie because none of you have or even will.  I'm sorry.  I should've seen Amour or Beasts of the Southern Wild or something that would expand my brain, but I didn't.  I redboxed A Thousand Words because the trailer made it look like Eddie Murphy might actually have the intention of making me laugh this time around.  Fooled me.  I'm like a patient with Alzheimer's who only remembers Eddie Murphy from the 80s being funny and each time a new movie comes out with his name attached to it, I get all excited again.  Fool me once shame on you, fool me every year since 1992, shame on you, you prick!

4. The Possession
 















This was also my fault for seeing this movie.  I tend to always forget that PG-13 horror sucks.  It's production companies mass producing something that resembles a horror movie that they use to bankroll an actual decent movie.  So, I hope my money was worth it Lion's Gate, because you sure had fun jerking me around for an hour and a half waiting for something, anything remotely interesting to happen.  Thanks Jeffrey Dean Morgan for adding to allure of a scary movie.  You're all douchebags.  Review here.


3. Project X
 












Putting this out there right now... Project X sucked balls. I'm not sure why I thought it wouldn't.  It's a found footage movie about a crazy party.  What else?  Oh, you wanted something else?  Yeah, no.  That's literally it.  Well, are there any funny characters?  Yeah, there's a fat dude who swears a lot... wait, no... um... there's a stoner kid who... no... oh, there's the virgin who wants to... no... how about the midget that jumps out of the oven and punches people in the dick!  NO! It's literally about a party.  Any party you've ever been to... yeah, it's that.  Except you're not there.  And you're not drunk.  And you're not having any fun whatsoever.  Add some destruction and some surprisingly understanding parents and you've got Project X.  A literal time-waster. 


2. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
 













This movie was so bad I didn't even bother putting a picture of it up.  Tim and Eric are the rectal warts of the comedy world.  Their bloody discharge they call "humor" is so far from funny I'd rather have the spikey end of a broom jammed up my ass each day for the rest of my life than ever watch anything either one of these fucktards decide to do again.  I didn't finish the movie... I couldn't.  I literally felt myself getting dumber.  I starting drooling all over myself and walking into walls shouting my own name.  Burn in Hell Tim and Eric... now that would be funny.

1. Piranha 3DD
 











You know who should join Tim and Eric in eternal damnation and Hellfire?  Everyone associated with Piranha 3DD.  Thank you for taking a wonderfully fun and gruesome and hilarious movie that was sure to revive the comedy/horror genre and make a sequel to it with people who are no smarter than a piece of poo on a plate.  Way to take all the fun out of piranhas.  Way to make the budget so small that they couldn't show a single death.  Way to make David Hasselhoff look worse on screen than he did when he was filmed drunk and eating a sandwich.  That's right, David Hasselhoff piss-drunk and chowing down on some bread was funnier and more interesting, not to mention better written than this piece of garbage sadly referred to as film.  Congrats!  You are officially the worst movie of the year.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Watch, Pitch Perfect

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables: Masters of the House


I feel like I have to convert the skeptics on this one.  I feel like those who know and love the musical Les Miserables will be very exited to see it/have already seen it.  It's those who are skeptical of its content need a little coercion here.  First of all, I am not a fan of musicals.  Wicked, Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Grease, Hairspray, etcetera, etcetera, are just so... meh to me. I've enjoyed a small handful of ones due to certain circumstances surrounding them such as Sweeney Todd because, despite the lack of singing ability in the film, I love Burton's direction of it and the darkness of it.  I also loved The Book of Mormon, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that disagrees with that.  Now, Les Miserables.  Let me first start by saying that I'd seen the Liam Neeson version and I... liked it.  It was instantly forgettable.  Then, many years ago my high school was putting on the show and asked me to be the comedic role in it.  I considered, but when I found out that I had to sing a lot, decided it wasn't for me.  Still, they kept saying I was perfect for the role, but I wanted nothing to do with a musical. As a last ditch effort to persuade me, they took me to see the play professionally performed at the Pantages theater in L.A. It was after that when I realized that I had to be in the play, bad singing voice and all, because it was the one of the greatest shows I'd ever seen in my life.  It was the last play I was ever in, but it's the most proud I've ever been of a show. Being able to be a part of the greatest musical of all time was a pleasure and I would've regretted not being in it, especially after having seen the movie.

Now, to the film. Because I have an affinity to the show, expectations were inevitably high. I mean, really, all they had to do was keep the same glorious Broadway musical intact, film it, and put it on the big screen and it'd be successful. Tom Hooper, who previously directed The King's Speech, can now be heralded as the man who took a mountain of a musical and made it readily available to anyone not willing to fork over Broadway prices... with glory. This film adaptation is one of the finest movies of the year. That isn't to say there aren't minor faults here and there, because it isn't a perfect film, but, and I'm sure this comes as a surprise to almost no one, it could be my favorite movie of the year.

The performances are breathtaking.  Hugh Jackman does his most magnificent portrayal of Jean Valjean.  If it wasn't for Academy favorite Daniel Day-Lewis, he'd be a shoo-in for Best Actor.  The man gives it his all and while the Broadway Valjean has the almost Opera-like vocal chords, his singing voice is one to be heralded.  This also comes as no surprise but Anne Hathaway is a lock for Best Supporting Actress.  I've seen the musical live a few times and the fighting I had to do to hold back tears (unsuccessfully, I might add) was much harder to do watching Hathaway onscreen.  Hooper does a single take for her song "I Dreamed A Dream" and the emotions she goes through from start to finish of the song is heart-breaking.  I can say with much conviction that if you don't so much feel the urge to stifle tears, then you are a robot.

Russell Crowe as Javert... there has been much controversy surrounding his performance and singing abilities.  I'd read/heard that he's the weak link of the film because he can not match the vocal talents of those singing around him and it borders embarrassing to watch.  I, personally, don't think he was that bad.  Was his performance weaker than the rest of the cast? Undoubtedly so, however, that isn't to say that it was bad.  I thought he embodied Javert in spirit and on screen.  Some of his songs were a little bit under par, but for the most part I didn't have a problem with his singing.  He added a bit of fear for me, in that whenever he appeared on screen I feared for the safety of those around him, more notably Valjean.  My favorite song from the musical in general is Javert's solo, "Stars".  This song would make or break Crowe for me and I thought he did a fine job. He played him stiff, unyielding, unrelenting and fearless, which is how I view the character.  But those expecting Broadway quality out of him may be setting their own expectations a little too high.  Take it for what it is.

As for the rest of the cast, Amanda Seyfried was fine as Cosette.  Her falsetto soprano singing voice lends to the role and she is quite endearing.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were also fine as the Thenardier's lending to the only comedic scenes of the film, giving the audience a brief break from their crying-induced headaches.  Though, if I had to pick a singer who I thought didn't have the vocal chops to be cast in the film it would be Carter herself.  But, the role doesn't exactly call for much more than she delivered. The other standout performance, though, is that of Eddie Redmayne and his portrayal of Marius. He hasn't done much in the past, but I guarantee he's got the safety of jobs heading his way because of this film.  He's just as good as Anne Hathaway and could easily steal away that Best Supporting Actor trophy. Samantha Barks reprises her Broadway role of Eponine on screen and she's just as magical as she is on the stage.

The other element of the film that has received a lot of flack is that of Tom Hooper's directorial choices.  He's got his own style which can come off as a bit annoying to those not used to it.  He's uses large swiping cuts and extreme close-ups.  There are choices that I thought I might've done differently such as whenever a main character sings their long solos or soliloquy's he chooses to stay right up on their faces giving us nothing visual going on in the background.  I think it worked with Eponine's solo "On My Own" as well as "I Dreamed A Dream" but I think this choice of never cutting away hinders "Valjean's Soliloquy" and really let me down on "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", a song that has a lot of material to work with.  Other than that, I thought the direction worked nicely.  Songs with multiple characters singing all at once were clear as well as "One Day More" where overlapping lyrics from different locations of Paris was well cut.

Now, the movie has some different elements and songs from the musical.  For instance, some songs are put in different order: "Stars" comes in earlier, "On My Own" comes in before "One Day More" and "Do You Hear the People Sing" comes in after. I thought all of these changes actually worked for film.  The transitions and importance of these songs in the rearranged order may have even worked better in the film than they do on stage.  There were also some songs with added or alternate lines to fit different situations and those not extremely familiar with the musical won't even know the difference.  Some of these lines made songs even better, I thought, especially in "The Confrontation" between Valjean and Javert in the hospital, which may have been my favorite scene in the whole movie. Only one song is entirely cut, Thenardier's "Dog Eat Dog", but the dialogue that replaces the song has basically the same impact and intention as the song and doesn't cheapen the scene any.  The other song significantly shortened is "Turning", but seeing as how the song doesn't actually lend to the progression of the plot, it's not much of a loss.  There is one new song, "Suddenly", written specifically for the film that I think is a very beautiful song, sung by Jackman in a very charming way, but like "Turning", doesn't do much to progress plot.

The biggest change from stage to screen is all of the added dialogue.  For those who don't know there is nearly no dialogue in the musical.  I'd say ten words max.  In this there is significantly more dialogue, something I was worried about.  However, again, with a little help from genius writing, they make the movie that much better.  It is able to save a little time and also explain added elements of the story to those who are unenlightened or a little lost.

The film, to me, is nothing short of a masterpiece, that will surely get robbed of most of the awards it deserves (*cough* Best Picture *cough*).  But I can confidently say it is the best musical adaptation ever made and I say this now having already seen it twice.  I'm prepared to see it a lot more with anyone who is even slightly interested in seeing it.  Any takers?  Let's go tonight!

A

Django Unchained: Go Ahead... Make My Slave


Quentin Tarantino, as of late, really likes to mess with genre and history.  Most of his films are homages to the greats and classics before it.  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were homages to the early pulp crime movies of the sixties and seventies.  Jackie Brown was an homage to blaxploitation films.  Kill Bill was an homage to very early Kung Fu films.  And now, he's tackled spaghetti westerns.  The reason Tarantino makes such great movies is because he is a fan of film.  He's devoted his entire being to film.  He knows how to write a film because his life is film.  He'll show his actors dozens of films similar to that of what he's trying to direct with each new movie he makes.  So, it's no surprise that his attempt at recreating the classic western genre is a total success.

Django Unchained tells the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who partners up with a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to go on a quest to save Django's enslaved wife (Kerry Washington) from the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Now, what's strange about this new venture for Tarantino is he's not given his story or his characters the same cinematic paths as his other movies that lend to long mundane, yet interesting conversation.  The quest these two are on moves quite quickly through each scene never really pausing long enough in one spot without someone getting blasted.  He also shows us this story in linear sequence, a rarity in the world of big T.  I think he's made the right decision, because while there are a few flashbacks, it would be a little jarring to watch this story unfold out of order.

What's great about this story is that Tarantino was brave enough to tackle slavery, not so much in an educational way, but for pure entertainment value.  This idea alone has to be handled very delicately, otherwise you're bound to piss a lot of people off.  Leave it to Q.T. to not only show the horrors of slavery, but make you feel worse about it than even Roots could.  He was able to put himself in the mind of the slave Django and write a realistic feeling character who is actually smarter than most of the white folks surrounding him.  Tarantino is also extremely unapologetic in his portrayal of slavery.  There are no filters here.  Some scenes are genuinely difficult to stomach but are necessary to show in order to accurately display the times of one of the worst eras in U.S. human history.  It's a raw depiction of the south, transformed into a unrelenting western almost reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.

Like I said earlier, T-Dawg also enjoys screwing with history. If you haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet then you deserve to have this spoiled for you... but the man kills Hitler.  I mean, he doesn't just kill Hitler he blasts his ass up with hundreds of machine gun bullets piercing his face!  It doesn't take away from the accurate portrayal of Nazi times and the people living and surrounding World War 2.  He's able to add these pulp elements because the man knows how to tell a story and entertain an audience to the point that we get to see Hitler annihilated, something never seen before.  It's the same for Django Unchained.  There hasn't been a film before where we get to see a tortured slave take the reigns and open up whiskey barrels of whoop ass on some white slave owners.  It's a hell of a sight to see these guys shot, blown up, maimed and all kinds of horrible death you wish upon these creatures.  Django himself, as well as Dr. Schultz are a thrill to watch because they're the purest form of badass there is, taking down some of the most despised people from history.

At two hours and forty-eight minutes, Django never really seems to drag because every scene has a point.  There are only a few instances where I felt the scene could've been shortened, but left as is, the movie still feels three hours shorter than any Lord of the Rings film.  The performances are also off the charts.  I'm not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx, he's just a little too egotistical for me and I always have this feeling that he's trying to steal the camera from someone else, but as Django he's actually very humble, lending most of the memorable first-half scenes to Christoph Waltz, who, as always, is excellent.  If you hated his Hans Landa character in Inglourious his Dr. Schultz character certainly redeems him tenfold.  Leonardo looks like he's having just too much fun with the role of Candie.  I'm hoping he'll be a little more open-minded to take on the role of villain more often because he's damn good at it.  Other than Waltz, it's Samuel L. Jackson who actually steals the show.  His character of indentured house servant Stephen is despicable.  He's the most heinous character in the entire film, yet nearly everything that comes out of his mouth has you in stitches.

And don't worry, folks, Tarantino doesn't disappoint with his ultra-violence.  The movie is extremely bloody, but never in a distasteful way.  In fact, some of the most gruesome moments of the film (and there are a couple gruesome moments) happen offscreen.  Then again, some of them happen right in front of your eyes.  The only thing truly unwatchable in Tarantino's film is Tarantino himself.  Seriously, dude, stay behind the camera.

It's movies like Django Unchained that make me love December.  Almost nothing bad comes out in December (save for a few forgettable family Christmas movies) and I'm able to sit back and enjoy true art and entertainment before the January shit-runoff starts moving the great movies out of theaters.  Django Unchained may very well be overlooked by the Academy, but it will not be overlooked by anyone who decides to see it.  It's one of the very best movies of the whole year.

A

Saturday, December 22, 2012

This Is 40 (Movie): A Movie Review


This is the first time I've been able to read a screenplay of a film before it was released into theaters and was then able to go watch the film a few weeks later to see how it stacks up.  Another instance something similar like this happened was back in college.  I was instructed to read the screenplay Brokeback Mountain for an assignment.  I hadn't seen the film, but after reading what was, honestly, a remarkable script, I saw the movie and I was, well... underwhelmed.  It was mostly the directorial choices of Ang Lee sort of skimming over what I thought to be the most important and poignant moments of the film.  After having read (and reviewed) the This is 40 screenplay, I was desperately hoping it wouldn't fall into the same pitfall.  Thankfully, it mostly didn't.

What was a bit of a downer was the fact that I'm sure the script that I read was an up-to-date post-production script that had the most current dialogue from the already finished film.  What's great about Judd Apatow films is he lets his actors improvise.  Some of these improvisations (including a hilarious rant in this film by Melissa McCarthy) tend to lend to the biggest laughs in his films.  But, with the script being almost a transcript of the film, I wasn't able to be surprised at the improvs.  I would've rather been able to read his finished script before he let his actors let loose and have some fun to be able to compare and contrast from the original text.  This is obviously no fault of Apatow or the film itself, but it was a little disappointing.

What does reflect poorly on ol' Apatow is something he's been guilty of almost every movie he's produced or directed: the alternate or cut takes on the trailer.  All of his trailers show scenes or lines or moments from the film, moments that viewers attach to, moments that make them want to see the film or the scene surrounding the line, that are inevitably left on the cutting room floor.  Some of these moments show up in the film as alternate takes from the aforementioned improvisations his actors do, but some of these moments are just cut from the film altogether.  Almost every instance I've noticed of this have resulted in the scene or the line being weaker than what it was in the trailer.  In Knocked Up, when Alison tells Ben she's pregnant, he responds, in the trailer: "...with emotion?"  However, in the film when she relays this information, his reaction has changed to an unsatisfactory "fuck you."  Several moments like this show up in This is 40.  A prime example, when Debbie (Leslie Mann) is feeling up her employee Desi's (Meagan Fox) boobs, she remarks, "this feels like memory foam.  Like a tempur pedic."  But, in one of the trailers as she's getting her grope on the joke isn't so obvious and much funnier when she says, "I feel like I could put a glass of wine on this one and jiggle this one and the wine wouldn't fall down."  This isn't the only instance either, but each one that I noticed missing from the film had an alternate line that made me wish for the original line that was seen in the trailer.

But what about the movie as a whole?  I think it's great.  As a budding comedy writer whenever I leave a movie like that it always makes me wish I had the talent to write that well.  Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are perfect in the reprisals of Debbie and Pete.  They're a constantly bickering couple who, at times, hate the living piss out of one another, yet the love is never gone from their eyes.  I've read a lot of reviews, not so much condemning the film for being bad or unfunny, but condemning Apatow for writing something so personal and so close to home starring his own wife and children that it becomes self-indulgent.  Now, to an extent I can see how it might seem a little off putting or creepy to have almost a voyeuristic insight into Apatow's home life, but I don't think that the casting should come into consideration of what is a good and somewhat realistic story of married life.  I believe that anyone willing to go see the movie will be able to relate to it in one way or another.  I'm not married and have never been, however there were elements of Pete and Debbie's relationship-- both good moments and bad-- that I saw in my own relationship.  Just because Apatow is able to, I assume, draw from real life experiences and the woman portraying the character he's written is played by his own wife should not be a means of scrutinizing an entire film that is actually quite good.

There isn't much of a plot to This is 40, there isn't much going on other than a look inside the life of your average upper/middle class family struggling with everyday problems.  Financial issues, trust issues, adolescent issues, abandonment issues, and relationship issues.  Granted, if I had as many problems occur in a single week as these two do, I don't think I'd be able to handle it for long.  And while this isn't Apatow's best film, it's certainly not his weakest.  He's maturing as a writer and as a director.  Five years ago there would've been a cavalcade of cameos by each of the Apatow rat pack members getting high or scene stealing but adding nothing overall to the flow of the story.  But almost none of them show up save for Jason Segal.  That's right friends, sorry to disappoint, but there is no Seth Rogen cameo either, which doesn't cheapen the movie in the slightest.

I was right about one thing based on my initial reading of the script... Albert Brooks steals every scene he's in.  He's wonderful as Pete's mooching father who really doesn't know how to say the right thing and whether he means to or not, is often the instigation of a majority of their fights. Now, I realize that this movie isn't going to be for everyone. I feel as though there will be people who can't stand to watch this family fight and bicker and spat at one another while they have it so much better than most. I agree that it's hard to empathize with a 13 year old who cries because her iPad was taken away, when I, myself, will probably never be able to afford the luxury of an iPad. But, those who can enjoy the film will see that the iPad can represent anything taken from a spoiled child from a toy to a computer.

This is 40 isn't going to be Judd Apatow's shining achievement, remembered by all twenty years from now as the day comedy was resurrected, but it's also not going to fade into the obscurity of page eight of your recommended Netflix watches (like The Guilt Trip will). Know what you're going into is not Knocked Up, but a real and raw look at a real and raw family going through life struggles that emulate life realistically, but also in comedic fashion.  It's also very, very funny.  Even if you hate every single second of the (admittedly) overlong film, I can guarantee that it will be impossible not to laugh.

B

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Big Peck's Guide To Christmas


One week away from Christmas and you've probably just started your shopping or just realized that you probably shouldn't have gotten that extra gift for that extra someone because you've now overdrawn from your Bank of America account and you are now an extra $35.00 in the hole.  Don't worry, I'm with you.  But, you're out of school, out of work, on a bit of a Christmas break for the next two weeks and you're just broke!  All of your money went to gifts and alcohol.  You want to go out and see movies, but there's nothing out there right now you're willing to part money with to go see.  You're holding out for Django Unchained and Les Miserables, I completely understand.  That's why I'm here to help.

I've compiled a list of the best Christmas movies that you need to watch before Christmas and each Christmas.  I'm not talking about your typical It's A Wonderful Life/Miracle on 34th Street type movies that are just understood to be the best Christmas movies.  I'm talking about those that sometimes get overlooked before Christmas.  These, my friends, are the best Christmas movies... ever.

SCROOGED:


 








80s and early 90s Bill Murray is the reason he's such the iconic human being he is today.  He gave us Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day and Caddyshack, but more importantly, he gave us the Christmas classic Scrooged. It's a contemporary take on the classic tale about a rich TV producer who's every inch of asshole as the real Ebenezer.  His company is preparing to do a live version of A Christmas Carol for Christmas just as Murray is visited by three Christmas ghosts to turn his life around.  With hilarious cameos by Carol Kane and Bobcat Goldthwait, make sure you watch this one for the laughs.

THE SANTA CLAUSE:
 











Don't get me wrong on this one.  I'm not advocating for The Santa Clause trilogy at all.  In fact, two and three would probably make my worst Christmas movies of all time list.  This is why I think the first one gets such a bad rap these days.  Plus the fact that Tim Allen decided to do every Christmas movie ever made ever.  Ever.  But, if you haven't seen it recently, I urge you to give it a revisit.  This is what good children's movie writing its.  It's clever, it's funny, it's got great one-liners from Allen, some so tongue-in-cheek you'll be laughing right along side the kid next to you who honestly doesn't get the joke.  It's not cemented in the ridiculous, but grounded in a reality that seems plausible.  And the reindeer don't TALK.  Please explain to me why the goddamn reindeer talk in the next ones???  This is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies and it will always be a stand-alone movie with no sequels.

THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT:
 









This movie, is not just one of my favorite Christmas movies, nor is it one of my all-time favorite action movies ever made... this movie makes the list of one of my favorite movies ever.  It just so happens to be set around Christmastime.  It's written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) who just so happens to be one of the smartest writers in the game.  His script stars Geena Davis as a woman suffering from amnesia who ends up finding out that she used to be an assassin for the government, with a little help of a private detective (Samuel L. Jackson) she looks to put an end to her past and kill off every single person that stands in her way.  I realize it does sound a little Bourne-ish, but trust me, it's worth it.  It's incredibly violent.
This is probably the second most violent Christmas movie in existence (the other one appears below).  It's a role you just wouldn't expect out of Geena Davis... a badass.  It's also my favorite role from Sam J.  I realize I'll get some flack for this because his role as Jules in Pulp Fiction is supposed to be the best, but his Mitch character in this film is fantastic.  He's funny even when he's on the verge of death.  He's got the sharpest tongue of any character.  And he's just having all kinds of fun.  If you've never heard of this film, I strongly urge you to see it.  It's a classic that no one's really seen.

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION:

 Whether you're a fan of the Vacation movies or you've only ever just seen this one, no one can deny that it's already a classic.  Somehow, no matter what John Hughes touched, it seemed to be able to last throughout the ages.  Clark W. Griswold and family are taking their craziest vacation yet... they're staying home for Christmas.  There's so many wonderful characters and some of the greatest Chevy Chase moments on film.  The dry, exploding turkey, the large Christmas tree, the house lights, the swimming pool, the kidnapping of Clark's boss, the squirrel.  Christmas Vacation is one of those Christmas movies that will be remembered probably as much as A Christmas Carol.  And while I have other Christmas films on this list, almost none of
"Merry Christmas!  Shitter was full!"

them will hold up as well as this one will. It's perplexing to wonder how John Hughes was able to write such a memorable Christmas movie so easily almost twenty five years ago and we haven't been able to recapture that magic ever since (I'm sorry Four Christmases, but no.)



JINGLE ALL THE WAY:












Don't give me any crap for this one please.  You know you love this movie just as much as I do.  You know that when you see any action figure in a store, you immediately think of Turbo Man.  You know that when you've made a batch of cookies and someone prematurely eats one you automatically think in Arnold-voice "Put the cookie down!".  It's okay.  You can admit it.  You don't have to hide your shame anymore.  Don't worry if the movie is somewhat kind of stupid.  Don't worry that you have to admit that you enjoy a Sinbad movie.  It's okay.  Arnold is hilarious in it.  Sinbad too.  Phil Hartman is a genius.  This might be the greatest Christmas movie of all time that no one is willing to admit to it.

HOME ALONE:










Do I really have to explain myself here?  Does anyone NOT love Home Alone?  It's probably the most quotable Christmas movie (oh look John Hughes strikes again).  When you were a kid you loved Kevin McCallister.  You wanted to be left alone too so you could set intricate traps to foil criminals plans.  Now that you're older, you love Harry and Marv.  You watch little Culkin for nostalgia, but can't wait to get to the next scene with those Sticky Bandits.  Definitely don't forget to watch this movie before Christmas.

BAD SANTA:
 












Bad Santa is a naughty ass movie.  It's one of the filthiest comedies I've still ever seen to this day.  However, it's also one of the funniest dark comedies I've seen.  The best part about it is it knew what it wanted to be and did it.  It knew it wanted to be the grossest, most offensive and disgustingly hilarious Christmas movie of all time.  So, congratulations, unlike movies like Ted who could've lived up to the standard it wanted to be but failed, Bad Santa reigns supreme.  I'm curious, though, how the movie would've turned out if the directors had cast their first choice of Santa instead of Billy Bob.  Bill Murray was up for the part, the Jack Nicholson.  Both had to drop out, but both would've been interesting choices and I'm not entirely convinced either (forgive me Bill Murray Gods) would've packed as much of a disgusting pop as Billy Bob Thornton.  This is the movie to watch, late-night before Christmas Eve.

DIE HARD:










We've reached the greatest non-traditional Christmas movie of all time.  This movie should be watched every year on the year.  There shouldn't be a present opened without having watched Die Hard first.  In John McClane we trust.  Christmas just wouldn't be the same without him.  If you haven't seen it, then you don't deserve a Christmas this year.  Go out, buy it three times, and watch each one five times.  Before you are allowed to open a single present, before you are allowed to even smell the delicious Christmas ham, you better know every goddamn line of this film.  If you haven't watched Die Hard yet this year, gimme a call.  I'll join you in a viewing.  But you have to watch it BEFORE Christmas.  Only the greatest Christmas movie of all time can be watched ON Christmas.  And of course, that movie is...

A CHRISTMAS STORY:











You can't deny it.  You can't tell me that A Christmas Story isn't the greatest Christmas classic in the history of Jesus' birth.  Ralphie, Slick, Randy, The Old Man, Santa.... everyone is such a wonderful character.  The most iconic and memorable scenes come from this movie.  You'll never look at a frosted pole again without thinking about if your tongue will stick.  You'll never look at a Red Ryder BB Gun the same without thinking "you'll shoot your eye out."  Every time you see a prop, novelty leg lamp you immediately think "Frah-gee-lay... must be Italian."  There's a reason TBS plays this movie on loop for 24 hours on Christmas and no other channel does anything like that.  It's because it's the only movie good enough to watch on Christmas day.  In the background of opening presents, eating dinner, family arguments, everything.  A Christmas Story IS the best Christmas movie of all time.  And I hope on Christmas day, all of us, will be watching it together.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook: Delightful. Simply Delightful.


It's such a shame that this movie is going to pass everyone by without so much as a second glance.  It's going to sit in its limited release waiting for the packed theater it deserves listening to the crowd fill up in the showing next door of Red Dawn.  It's six screenings each day will try their hardest to get those few who came out to see it to persuade their friends and family to venture out to see it as soon as possible, but it will be of no use.  There won't be a theater close enough.  Or they'll plan to see it at a future date, but by then it will be long gone.  It's such a shame because the movie was an absolute delight to watch.

I think I understand why there's not much appeal to the average movie-goer.  The movie is difficult to market.  It's not exactly your Nora Ephron/Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks rom-com that appeals to the masses.  It's a much darker movie, but with absolute no holds barred charm.  It's flaw is that it's not a marketable movie.  The studios have tried their best, but I feel it's a tad misleading.  They can't market it as a quirky indie-esque comedy with true pain, heartache, and love because average people looking for mindless date night have already purchased seventeen dollar tickets to see Playing For Keeps.  Or, those who want to see the indie side of romantic comedies have seen advertisements and posters that make it look like a Bradley Cooper version of Must Love Dogs, so they're staying away.  The one shred of hope this movie had was word-of-mouth, but even that doesn't seem to be giving it hardly any staying power.  I mean, hell, if Juno was able to bust out of the indie scene, this movie should too, shouldn't it?  And Juno is a highly inferior movie compared to this.  So frustrating.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a recently discharged mental patient who had a bit of a mind snap eight months prior when he caught his wife in the shower with another man and proceeded to beat that man within an inch of his life.  He's diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is released into the custody of his mother and father.  Pat tries to turn each moment of his life into something positive, something with a silver lining.  But, his disjointed outlook on life is somewhat skewed when every action he takes is to impress his wife... a woman who won't see him and has a restraining order against him.  He then meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who's just as screwed up in the head as he is, but never had to go to the nut house.  Tiffany's husband passed away and she lost her job, so she's just a little screwy too.  The two form a rather unorthodox bond and become good friends all the while Pat tries to win back his wife and Tiffany tries to make a friend.

Okay, I realize that even writing this plot out that it doesn't really do the movie justice.  I'm not even sure how the script did it justice through a cold read, but somehow it just works.  I mean, sure, a lot of it has to do with the acting because everyone in the movie is stellar.  But, there's just not a way to put into words how this movie just... works.  It works on multiple levels.  It's funny, it's sad, it's painful, it's joyous.  It's some of the best filmmaking you'll see from David O. Russell who I do now like as a director even though he's a turd of a human being.

Robert DeNiro plays Patrick Sr., Pat's father.  He's got this entire subplot of having lost his job becomes a bookmaker, and superstitiously bets on the Eagles each week in order to save up enough money to open his own Philly Cheese steak Restaurant.  He has to deal with his son waking him up at four in the morning because he's having a fit of rage due to the fact that he can't find his wedding video or a diatribe about how Earnest Hemingway sucks because his stories aren't happy. But he tries to make it work, and not really on the 'I just want my son to be okay' level, but more on the 'I think my son is good luck and whenever he's around the Eagles win' level.  It's kind of twisted, but in a deeper way, kind of sweet.  Finally, DeNiro is given a role with substance.  He's done too many guido roles and one too many Focker roles that giving him a character with so many layers and emotional nuances really shows the acting chops we knew he had.

Chris Tucker is in this movie!  You read that right.  And he's great.  He's Pat's friend Danny, a fellow mental patient who has a penchant for escaping the hospital.  You can tell Tucker had a hard time being as reserved as he is in the film, but it may actually rejuvenate his career.  But, the real stars of the film are Cooper and Lawrence.  Cooper plays disturbed so well.  He has no filter, he has no recognition of social norms anymore.  He says whatever is on his mind without apology.  He breaks into fits of rage, paths of destruction in his wake, yet you still have the utmost sympathy for him.  He's trying and he's clearly not perfect.  Lawrence plays crazy great as well.  She's more the emotionally shattered, starved for attention, not really sure why she's crazy type of crazy.  But, somehow in the midst of their two opposing forces, these two characters have a real chemistry.

Until This Is 40 is released in a few weeks, you'll be hard-pressed to find a pseudo-romantic-comedy as well written, acted, directed, etc., as Silver Linings Playbook.  And though it's different than the romcoms you're used to, deep deep down under layers and layers and layers of indie flare is a standard boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back formula.  Only this time, it doesn't feel predictable.  It doesn't feel like you've seen this a thousand times played by Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. This move can truly stand on its own two feet.  And I loved every minute of it.  Just delightful.

A-

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Collection: Entertainment Horror Reigns


For those of you who don't know, The Collection is actually a sequel to a little known horror movie that came out in 2009 called The Collector.  It was helmed by Saw contributors Marcus Dunston and Patrick Melton.  Now, these guys aren't exactly the Henry David Thoreau of horror, but they're not the Tyler Perry's of it either.  They know how to please their target audiences.  For me, there are two types of good horror movies.  There's the slow, creepy, build-up suspenseful horror with lots of shock and awe moments that terrify you to your very core, but have little to no blood or gore.  Early Paranormal Activity knew how to effectively do this as well as [very] early M. Night Shyamalan.  These are the types of movies that are remembered.  They're Psycho, and The Sixth Sense and Seven.  Then, there's the other type, the category movies like The Collection and its predecessor fall into: the gory, blood-splattering, campy, high body count, type movies.  Now, there are a LOT of these movies coming out recently.  The first Saw film, which to this day I still defend as being one of the best horror movies of all time was able to do this, though that movie may slip a little bit more into the former category.  But, it's sequels were pure torture-porn garbage put into existence only to make money and push the boundaries of what horrific death could be shown on a screen.  I'm not talking about lazy (Captivity), greedy (Saw II-XXXVIII), and empty (House of Wax) films that fail to include anything reminiscent to a plot.  I'm talking about entertaining, over-the-top films that not only provide everything a horror fan is looking for in a movie, but provides the utmost entertainment value for your dollar.  Films like Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell, Piranha 3D, My Bloody Valentine, and now The Collection fall into this category.

While it may be argued that The Collector is nothing but vacuous torture-porn, I tend to disagree.  While there is a tremendous amount of carnage, there is also something that has been lacking in horror movies lately: creativity.  The Collector tells the story of Arkin, a small-time crook working a renovation job at the home of a wealthy family.  In debt, he decides that while the family is away for the night he is going to break into their home and steal from their safe.  While in the house, the family is being tortured by The Collector, a masked man whose intentions are unknown.  Because the Collector isn't aware of Arkin's presence, Arkin is able to sleuth around the house in an attempt to save the family.  But, of course, it isn't that easy.  The Collector has set up hundreds of deadly booby traps around the house and essentially turned it into a death maze that is the least easy obstacle to overcome.  Pretty interesting story, no?

Well, The Collection pretty much begins where the first one leaves off.  Arkin, the only soul ever taken by the Collector to escape is recruited by a team of mercenaries hired by a rich father whose daughter is the latest kidnap victim.  Arkin leads the team to a large abandoned hotel which, if you haven't already figured out, is also booby trapped.  The house traps in the first film look like cake compared to this death factory on steroids.  While Duston and Melton don't waste much time dealing with minute things like character development or backstory, they do jump right in to the highest level of horror creativity I've seen in a long time.  They've found ways to kill people better and grosser and more fantastically shocking than any horror movie in the past few years.

I went into the movie a little worried about a few things: one, the first movie made little to no money and garnished almost no recognition whatsoever, so I was worried that a smaller budget would lend to a cheesier and lacking sequel.  Fear not, horror fans.  What's lacking in budget is made up with in originality and ingenuity on the filmmaker's part.  My other fear was that now that there's a new established horror killer being given a second film that the film wouldn't end the way the audience would like in order to make way for a cavalcade of second and third rate sequels directed by straight-to-DVD hacks.  This was also not the case.  I'm not going to ruin anything for anyone, but even if there are ten more sequels, this film is able to stand alone on its own two feet.

While it's unfair to give this movie a solid 'A' on the gradescale, because that would be saying it's just as good as Lincoln or Argo, which it really isn't.  But, what it does is exceed the expectations for the type of movie it is in the genre it descends from.  It's tense, it's scary, it's fun, it's bloody, and it's one of the most entertaining horror flicks to be released in a while.  If you're a fan of the genre, there's not much that The Collection won't give you, other than an incredibly fun night at the movies.

B+

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This Is 40 (Screenplay): A Reading Review


No, stop checking IMDB.  The movie hasn't come out yet.  And I haven't even seen it yet.  I was able to procure a copy of the script.  As a budding screenwriter, I like to read scripts.  I love to see the little ways the screenwriting greats make their scripts so much better than mine.  How I can read one of their scripts and immediately feel bad about my own.  Conversely, of course, I can read a terrible script and instantly motivate myself not to give up.  But, especially as a comedy writer, I read the comedy greats.  Right now Judd Apatow is that man.  In ten years from now, who knows.  That torch may be passed to someone else.  But, right now, if there's a comedy with his name attached to it... it's going to be a good movie.  Some of the best comedies of the 2000s were because of that man.  Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, The 40-Year Old Virgin... the list could go on.  And even for those who weren't entirely fond of Funny People, there's no doubt that it didn't make you laugh.  So, I may have jumped the gun a little bit by getting a hold of the This Is 40 screenplay, but damn it if Apatow hasn't done it again.

There are a lot of things about reading a screenplay that doesn't necessarily mean that I saw the movie.  I mean, my imagination was in play the entire time.  And while I had Paul Rudd's and Leslie Mann's voices down for each line, along with others, their acting choices weren't prevalent in my head.  So, this review, until I actually see the movie for the first time, is solely based on the writing of the movie.  There will still be little things in the finished film that wasn't on paper including, what I assume, will be at least half the movie's worth of improvisational lines.  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading every part of this script.

The film begins five years after the events of Knocked Up and what I will say right now, crushing the hopes and dreams of everyone waiting to see the movie, at least in the script, there is no sign of Seth Rogen, Katherine Hiegel (thank God) or their baby.  That doesn't mean that there isn't a part for them in the film... in the script there is a large birthday party scene for Pete (Rudd) that they could very easily show up in, but I doubt it.  Pete and Debbie (Mann) are about to turn forty.  Their birthdays, coincidentally, are a week a part.  And while Pete is more or less fine with starting the new chapter in his life, Debbie wants to remain thirty-eight for as long as she looks the part.  She's worried about aging and wants to implement some new changes into their family.  Some of the changes for the better such as taking away all electronics from her kids so that they can actually go outside and use their imaginations, a concept hard to grasp for anyone born in this era.  But, some of the changes are for the worst.  She wants to change who her and Pete are as a couple.  They've become too familiar with one another that the love is seeming to disappear.

Throughout this mid-life crisis they face other struggles.  Their oldest daughter just turned thirteen and has become less the sweet, innocent child she used to be and is starting to grow up and detached from her parents.  Also, both Pete and Debbie's fathers aren't the best role models in the world that it inherently screwed both of them up.  Pete's father (who will be brilliantly played by Albert Brooks) has a new wife and a gaggle of young triplets he's trying to deal with.  Oh, and no job.  So, for the last however many years, Pete has been secretly letting his father borrow money, none of which looks as though it will be paid back.  This, then, lends to Pete's own financial struggles.  His new record label is looking to make a profit off an aging musician who hasn't been big since the late 70s.  For those of you who love older rock and roll will be pretty happy with who Apatow has chosen for this role.  Others may not even know who the hell he is.  But this financial struggle is leading Pete down a path that he may have to sell his house and close his label... and admit all of this to his wife (something I think he'd like to do less than be shot point-blank in the chest).

Debbie's father (played by John Lithgow) has only recently returned to her life... another attempt at her trying to sew her life together.  He ran away from his family when she was eight and has since remarried and began a new family, one that hasn't been involved with Debbie hardly ever.  Debbie's clothes shop is also losing money.  Somehow, twelve thousand dollars has gone missing from the budget and she can only look to her two employees, Jodi (Charline Yi's character from Knocked Up) and Desi (Megan Fox) a new, young, attractive hire that only lends negatively to Debbie's own sense of self-image.

I won't get further into detail, but these characters are real people.  They have everyday struggles that a lot of people deal with when getting later into life.  While some of these may not be overtly connected to anyone in particular, they're still real life issues the audience (or in my case the reader) can relate to.  And the movie is funny.  Damn is it funny.  When reading a script alone, the hardest task is to get the reader to laugh and let me tell you I was laughing consistently the entire time.  I was able to tell that Apatow had a lot of fun writing the script.  He was not only able to draw from his own life experiences to create perfect characters for his wife and daughters, but was also able to draw from his own sick sense of humor and create some rather hilarious side characters as well.  Melissa McCarthy will portray the mother of a boy who taunts Pete and Debbie's oldest, and the brief scenes she's in will bring you to your knees.

But the best written character is Pete's dad Larry.  He's a pathetic man with no moral qualms whatsoever about taking money from his child, even though Pete's struggling just as much, if not more so.  But, what's evident with most Apatow movies is even though he's a despicable character, Apatow finds ways to humanize him so that even if you tried your hardest, it would be difficult to hate him.  Albert Brooks is the perfect person to cast for the role and as I was reading it, I had a hard time envisioning anyone else for the part.  Scenes between Pete and Larry or Larry and anyone else are the best parts of the film.

And for those who though that Pete and Debbie were irritating in Knocked Up, and you may be right, their characters are given much more here.  There is love in between each fight and disagreement.  They're not the perfect couple, but by the end it's evident that they are meant for each other.  It's a great holiday movie, it's a great date movie, it's a great comedy.  No one will leave the theater unfulfilled.  And if the movie is only half as good as it's script, then it's shaping up to be the best comedy of the year.  I personally can't wait to see it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln: Shot on Location (Too Soon?)


Surprise, surprise.  Another year another chance for Spielberg to pick up another Academy Award.  Now, this is not me complaining about Lincoln in the slightest, but I'm ready to watch fun Spielberg again.  Dude, you've got so many awards, can't you do another Minority Report or Jurassic Park or Catch Me If You Can?  I want to see the fun high-spirited Spielberg who directs great action and has fantastic humor.  Not, I haven't won an Oscar in awhile so I gotta do War Horse Spielberg.  Give us a break, man!

Rant aside, Lincoln is a fantastic film.  Were you expecting that?  Of course you were.  Daniel Day-Lewis crawls out of his cave after four years of silence?  The man only reappears when the script essentially guarantees him a nomination or five (save for Nine) because, let's face it, he's the best method actor in Hollywood.  Nobody plants themselves into a role as deep as Day-Lewis does.  And he's given us some of the best characters (villains) in movie history.  Combine him with the worlds most famous director and you (should) have film glory.

Don't be fooled by the trailers or the title of the film, this is not a biopic of Abraham Lincoln's life or tenure in the white house.  Lincoln chronicles the life of the President a few months before his death as he's eagerly trying to pass the thirteenth amendment.  That's it.  Don't expect to see a lot of Civil War scenes ala Saving Private Ryan with muskets.  Don't expect to see Day-Lewis proudly giving the Gettysburg Address.  No.  It is just about the President and his cabinet attempting to find twenty extra votes in the House of Representatives in favor of the amendment.

It took me a good forty minutes of the film to figure that out, but once I did I was able to sit back and enjoy.  Now, I'm not going to lie to you, the film is incredibly slow at parts.  It is dialogue heavy with political banter abounds and for those uninterested in the history of politics, the first half of the film may filibuster you out of the theater early (you see what I did there?).  But, if you can sit back and watch this history in action, I can tell you that the movie as a whole is highly successful in its cause.

It's got a great cast of supporting characters.  Tommy Lee Jones in particular is a magnificent grumbly old Representative with a sharp tongue and a comeback for everyone.  He knows when to speak and knows when to scowl.  It was also nice to see James Spader back on the screen and having fun.  Sally Field plays Mary Lincoln so great that it's hard to want to see her anywhere near the President.  She's a loony old soul with too many emotional screws loose that all she wants to do is hold Lincoln back... and she knows it!  A cavalcade of supporting actors sprinkled throughout the film also lend to the film's delight including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earl Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, and John Hawkes among others.

But, the real shining star here is, unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis in his relatively quiet portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.  When you hear of Day-Lewis, you automatically wonder what character spin he's going to put on his role.  Bill "The Butcher" was a greasy New Yorker with a glass eye and a constant grimace.  Daniel Plainview was a monster behind a moustache.  But, Abraham Lincoln is played with some restrain.  He's a soft-spoken, giant-hearted individual.  I've heard some critisism of Day-Lewis' choice on how he portrayed Lincoln as 'safe'.  But, let me assure you there is nothing safe about it.  To be a great actor there needs to be no sign of the actor in the character.  While I still don't think I've ever really seen the real Daniel Day-Lewis, this has to be the furthest from him I've ever seen.  From his mannerisms to his walk slightly slouched, to his smile, right down to the kindness in his eyes.  Lincoln is a man with the utmost love of everyone.  He wants to use his Presidency to do something right and looks at human beings both with him and opposed with love.  Just because he's not "The Butcher" in Lincoln-face, doesn't mean that this isn't some of the finest acting on film in a few years.

Spielberg should also get recognition for his direction.  This should come as no surprise, but it's nearly perfect.  Spielberg has the tendency in his "Academy worthy" films to be a bit long-winded and verbose and nearly bore the living War Horse out of us.  Thankfully, in Lincoln, unlike the aforementioned War Horse, there's life inserted into the film. There's sustainable characters.  There's humor.  There's a film that's not about the most boring goddamn horse in history.  Sorry... sorry.  And while there are moments that a scene will run a little too long, especially in the first half, every moment is just as important as the one preceding it.  War Horse aside, Spielberg still knows how to make a great damn film.

I do not recommend this film to all my readers, because it's not for everyone.  It's overly long, slow-paced, dialogue heavy, with very little visceral action happening on screen.  However, if you can appreciate the slowly dying art of great acting and great filmmaking, I suggest you put this movie next on your list.  Even if it ends up not being your cup of tea, there will still be an appreciation for the film as a whole.  Now, get your damn Oscar, Spielberg, so you can entertain me once more with something mindless and fun.

A

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph: Disney's Best Non-Pixar Pixar Film


I'll give Disney one thing: they know how to make a movie (forgetting, of course, Mars Needs Moms).  They have probably the best animated writers of any company attempting to make a "family" film.  They don't fall into the traps of other studios where one franchise succeeds and ten sequels later it finally fades away (I'm looking at you Shrek and Ice Age).  They work well because they know the definition of family.  It doesn't mean overt obvious fart jokes to get infants to giggle for a few seconds and then finish with an obscure ending inevitably leading towards more film opportunities.  They can tell a great story and finish with dignity.  I say this now but in two years when Wreck-It Ralph 2 is being released you all two of you readers can laugh in my face.

Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is the villain of the popular arcade game Fix-It Felix.  His entire life purpose is to bash up a large building as quickly as possible while the gamer uses Felix to fix the wreckage.  At the end of the level, Felix is given a medal and Ralph is thrown off the building and into the mud.  After the arcade closes, Ralph solemnly gets up from his mud bath and goes to sleep in the dump under a pile of bricks.  Not necessarily the ideal lifestyle.  All Ralph wants is to be the hero... to win the medal, just once.  So, in an attempt to prove to himself that he's not just a bad guy, he game jumps into another video game and inserts himself into a sugary race track in order to win the coveted medal.  There he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) a small child also wrestling with her own personal demons.

It's great because these two seemingly simple-minded, as well as pre-programmed characters have a lot more going on than what appears on the outside.  On the outside Ralph is a hulk-like giant who can't help but destroy elements in his path.  Vanellope is an obnoxious child who has the same goals and ideals as Ralph-- to win just one race and be accepted by her peers.  The two form an unlikely bond in order to help one another achieve greatness.  In the hands of a lesser production company this movie could've come and gone to theaters without so much as a consideration.  But, because Disney is so apt at telling a magical story, it's one of the better animated movies of the year.

There is plenty in the film for both children and adults.  Children get to empathize with the gentle giant and Vanellope as they band together to defeat the forces holding them back.  Adults get the enjoyment of that ride as well, but they also get nostalgia from the older arcade references from Pac-Man to even Cubert, two characters children today, I'm sure, aren't even aware of (Do kids even know what an arcade even is?).  The jokes also range from immature childish banter, to some clever word play.  There's something for everyone.

I also have to give major props to Disney for knowing how to create conflict.  My God do they know how to stack together plot elements on top of one another to create moments of conflict after conflict after conflict.  Then, when you think everything will work out... they drop another bomb on you to create more conflict and chaos, but every solution to each problem has been pre-thought out and set up all the way to the beginning.  This is Disney's strong suit.  Animated movies like Hotel Transylvania and Madagasgar 7 have lost this edge.  This is why Disney, and more specifically Pixar will always have the monopoly over the great animated movies of the year.

And, let's be honest, Wreck-It Ralph is as close to a Pixar movie as you can get without actually being Pixar.  This year's entry, Brave, while still powerful and beautiful filmmaking, felt more along the lines of a Dreamworks film.  Pixar is generally a fun and high-spirited set of films.  Movies about monsters in closets, talking toys, amnesiac fish, little robots.  And Brave strayed a bit from the colorfulness and happy-go-lucky staple they'd abided by for years and went more for the darker more adventurous movie.  While this is fine, Wreck-It Ralph had more of a Pixar feel to it.  Which is, by no means, a bad thing in the slightest.

The film did, however, fall a bit short of the Pixar standard.  The first thirty minutes feel like your typical obnoxious, run of the mill animated movie, but once the reveals begin to unfold, and the characters are explored in depth even more is when the magic truly starts to shine.  If you have a kid, or even if you don't, you're not going to find a better animated movie again until next year when Pixar returns to present us with its next animated gem.

B