Saturday, September 25, 2010

Movie Review: You Again

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Lots of choices for the movies this weekend. Animated heroic legendary owls, following someone trying to loose their virginity, a sequel twenty three years after the very successful original or the comedy about high school. Choices, choices. Why couldn't one of these be released two week ago to give me a choice against Resident Evil Afterlife? Well, I chose the comedy!

Marni (Kristen Bell) is a highly successful PR exec who has just been promoted to the VP position of her company's New York office. Before she will be heading to the Big Apple she is going home to participate in her brother's wedding. It's at this time that her mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells her who the bride is and Marni flips out. The bride to be is Joanna (Odette Yustman) the person who had made the most lasting impression of high school for Marni to say the least.

At home the whole family is taken in by Joanna as a wonderful caring person with no evidence of the devil horns, spiked tail and pitch fork that Marni remembers. Everyone including the dog Cocoa Puff and Grandma Bunny (Betty White) love the bride to be. When Marni tells her mom about Joanna's past, Gail's response is "Everyone deserves a second chance". That is until Joanna's Aunt Mona shows up. Turns out that Mona is actually Ramona from Gail's past and those two have bad blood history themselves as well!

Joanna claims not to remember Marni even though they went to a small school which is pointed out a number of times during the movie. For the four days leading up to the wedding Marni tries to get an apology from Joanna and every attempt to try to show her up or get the apology fails. Eventually the big reveal is done at the worst possible time at the worst possible place. But is revenge a dish best served cold? Does anyone come out the winner in that situation?

My personal reaction to this movie surprised me. The first part of the movie had me in a visceral gut pounding reaction. I could highly identify with the Marni character. I understood what it was like to be bullied and her reaction to coming face to face with the bullier. At my own six year high school reunion (don't ask why six instead of five, it's a screwed up tale), there was someone that I tried to avoid. Gail made the comment to Marni, "nobody gets through high school unscathed" and I agree that is true to different degrees for different people. Ultimately we make the decision what we're going to do to move forward.

There were many cliches in the movie and some genuine funny points. One of the highlights should have been Betty White and even though she was in the top billing for the movie she was under utilized and didn't have all that many scenes. Kristen Chenoweth proved a bright spot as the wedding planner Georgia. Her assistant and ex fiance to the bride Tim (Kyle Bornheimer) gave those awkward laugh moments which he had a chance to perfect on his short lived show Worst Week.

Sigourney and Jamie Lee look wonderful as leading ladies. Jamie Lee has spoken out about the use of plastic surgery and aging in Hollywood. She's a wonderful actress who can pull off movies like Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies and of course Freaky Friday with Lindsey Lohan (go get better Lindsey, we're routing for you!) It would be a waste to not use this talent just because there isn't some silicone or botox under the skin!

If you go to the movie, you'll get treated to a number of uncredited cameos adding some sparkle to the movie. They're sprinkled throughout and they are quite visible so you won't miss them. When the credits start to roll, don't leave immediately, hold on for a few minutes, you'll be glad you did. The movie runs 105 minutes and has been rated PG for brief mild language and rude behavior.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Movie Review: Easy A

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Ever play the game Telephone or Gossip back in grade school? You remember...when everyone lines up, then the first person whispers something into the second person's ear, the second repeats to the third and so on until finally the last person repeats out loud what they heard at their end of the line. You compare the first to the last and see how it morphs. In Easy A, Olive (Emma Stone) tells a white lie to her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka of Disney channel's Aly and AJ and now the CW's Hellcat fame) to avoid having to spend awkward time with Rhiannon's family. The lie morphs and changes form but instead of battling it, Olive decides to play it up. In the end it causes her more problems than the original lie solved.

John Hughes would have been proud of this teen age high school social standing movie. The movie even pokes fun of and pays homage to John Hughes and 80's teenager movies like The Breakfast Club, Can't Buy Me Love and Say Anything. Olive is trying to navigate the murky waters of high school and come out successfully on the other side. To avoid telling her BFF the truth why she didn't spend the weekend with her BFF's family, she makes up that she spent the weekend with a college guy named George. Because Olive is not forthcoming with details of how the weekend went, Rhiannon jumps to the conclusion that Olive had sex with George. Olive doesn't deny the accusation and so the rumor mill starts turning. With teens connected via cell phones, text messaging and Facebook, the misinformation moved through the grape vine in less time than it takes for a light to turn green and a New York driver's car horn sounds to tell the driver at the front of line to MOVE IT!

The lie gets further compounded during a detention session. She hears tales from Brandon (Dan Byrd) about the bullying he's receiving for being gay and she tells him about what caused her penalty while revealing the truth about her situation. She's starting to like the attention where she had previously known anonymity. He asks her to have fake sex with him so that people wouldn't think he's gay and therefore leave him alone. She reluctantly agrees which because of such a convincing act her and Brandon put on of their tryst triggers the rumor mill to kick into overdrive. Just so happens in literature class they are studying Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Olive uses this to her "advantage".

From there Olive is open for business to improve other guys reputations while her own reputation is going down the tubes. Guys line up with gift cards to a number of big box retailers to pay for her services which brings the scandal to a whole new level. The rumors affect her home life, her school time and relationships with BFF Rhiannon and school mascot Woodchuck Todd. Eventually like any boil that's been festering it comes to a head and pops with painful results.

The ensemble cast works very well together. Stanley Tucchi and Patricia Clarkson are hysterical as the caring, sensitive, understanding and yet somewhat clueless parents. Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow play a married couple who work at the same high school with just enough seriousness and comedy as to not make their positions caricatures. Amanda Bynes had the right amount of self righteousness as the leader of the local christian chastity club that you were looking for the skeletons in her closet and the purity ring on her hand at the same time.

The two things that didn't work for me were the ages and the dates within the storyline. While appearing youthful, I couldn't quite buy that they were high school students in Ojai, California. I'm sorry, every time I hear the city name I now think of and the LOL cat speak! With the showing of oranges ready to pick, basket ball pep rallies and a mention that the date was April, elements for the time line didn't fall into place the way it should have for the storyline to flow evenly. I got slightly distracted by those factors.

The technical elements of the movie made for an captivating watch. Whoever did the opening titles and the closing credits were clearly influenced by watching Fox's show Fringe. They were set into the scene like a prop and as you got closer they got bigger or rotated as you moved around them. The inter cutting of various movies including the aforementioned films and the original The Scarlet Letter demonstrate points made by Olive during the film. The varied soundtrack songs were enjoyable including the running gag with one particular song. Nordhoff High School in Ojai stood in as Ojai North High School giving the believability factor an extra boost in the arm that a set couldn't do.

The clear star of the movie is Emma Stone. She plays Olive as a smart, thinking, funny, young adult with a hint of vulnerability that draws you into appreciate the character. Not only was she the main character, but pulled double duty as the narrator of her own mini documentary talking to her webcam. The level of sarcasm in her responses were as Hawaii's Aunty Marialani would say, not too sweet, not too rancid, but juuuuuuussss right. There were many time I found myself laughing out loud to the dialog and situations presented and the self awareness of Olive. The 93 minutes passed quickly. With talk of sex and virginity, the movie had a PG-13 rating that covered mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.

While the movie I don't think was an easy A due to those few discrepancies already noted, the movie for me was an easy A-! Director Will Gluck and writer Bert Royal would probably get a thumbs up atta boy from John Hughes if he was still alive today. While there is no easter egg, the credits take a different tact and are worthy of a gander!

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

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Wow, what a weekend in the movie theaters. At my local theater there was only one major movie release and three art house films, the earliest release from July and the latest on August 20. For the second time in just a few weeks, there was a re-release of a film which originally released back in June. Not only was there only one major release, it was in IMAX 3D, Real 3D and a regular version. My local theater in the Friday through Sunday time span showed this movie 14 times per day. You would think that with no competition and so many showings that the movie must be so awesome that it deserves the large number of time slots AND scare off any possible opponents. The movie in question: Resident Evil: Afterlife. So I bit.

This is the fourth movie in the franchise who's original genesis was a video game. Originally the game was released in Japan under the name Biohazard. Bringing it to America the name was changed to Resident Evil after it was discovered that the name Biohazard couldn't be copyrighted and protected. The movie opens showing the original infestation taking place at the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, Hachiko Crossing in Shibuya Japan paying homage to the original game. In an attempt to make sure that if number four is your first outing into the movie franchise, a voice over by our heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) gives the back story laying the foundation so we know why the she's fighting. Yeah...rah! Go kick the Umbrella Corporation's butt Alice! They're responsible for the virus that zombified the world.

All throughout this introduction you can see where they would use the 3D process to show depth and duck as bullets and weapons come out of the screen at you. Yawn! By attending one of the four non 3D showtimes I was able to keep the 3D upcharge of $4 in my pocket. Paul W S Anderson wrote and produced all four movies and takes another turn at directing the franchise after directing the original move back in 2002.

We see Alice fight and then head out to find any remaining humanity that may have taken refuge on the globe. Flashbacks to the previous movie, Extinction give us Alice's motivation. She goes to Arcadia and then eventually finds her way back to Los Angeles where she discovers more survivors. She ends up at a prison where she finds seven other survivors including Luther West (Boris Kudjoe) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). If you're in a prison and looking to get out, wouldn't it be awesome if you had access to someone who is a prison break expert? You couldn't help but notice the irony of the task at hand and the actors in the scene.

The survivors battle within themselves, among themselves, the undead, the monsters within the undead, the Umbrella Corporation and even one giant. Where or how the giant came from, who knows? The giant carried a weapon that looked like a cross between a executioners axe and giant meat tenderizer. It seemed like the only reason this giant existed was to be able to give justification to use 3D. A couple of the people should have been wearing red shirts. Just like Star Trek, when the character wore the red shirt you knew they weren't long for screen time. Afterlife was no different with disposable characters. With one character think Shelly Winters from The Poseidon Adventure.

Just like the previous editions, the movie left off where the next movie in the franchise can easily pick up the storyline and action. With all the blood and guts while battling the undead, the movie was rated R for violence and strong language that pervaded the 97 minute running time. When the credits roll, don't leave right away, hang for a moment for some extra set up for the next movie and if you're a hard core Resident Evil fan, stay all the way to the very end for an easter egg.

The only thing that was exciting about this movie for me was the gas explosion that happened across the street from the movie theater during the showtime. To come out and see flashing lights on a police cruiser blocking the road to traffic and then seeing a fire engine with ladder extended and water being sprayed in the nearby field was a rush. That and the coupon from Regal Theater's facebook page that got me a small popcorn for free, a $4 savings. That was something to get excited about!

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Movie Review: Going the Distance

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Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer. Long weekend. Hopefully a weekend to cap off the summer nicely. Wanting to laugh, I chose the romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long playing two lovers who were trying to make a bi-coastal relationship work. By the time the 109 minutes had passed, I felt like I was Going the Distance just to make it through the movie.

Garrett (Long) has just been dumped by his girlfriend. To get over the sorrow, his roommate Dan (Charlie Day) and friend Box (Jason Sudeikis of SNL fame) take him to a bar where he meets and immediately bonds with Erin (Barrymore) over a game of Centipede and bar trivia. Instant sparks between the two! Both come to the conclusion that they would like to continue to see each other but it comes with a caveat. She's leaving in six weeks to go back to San Francisco at the end of an internship at a New York city newspaper.

Predictably they get along famously and when her departure time arrives, they decide they want to try to make it work via a long distance relationship. E-mails, video chats, texting and phone calls are tools in the arsenal to keep and grow the connection between them. It's not like the old days where you'd have to wait for the post office to deliver a letter or run up huge long distance bills. With laptop cameras standard today, "seeing" each other is very simple process outside of dealing with time zones. They might not be able to go to the movies together, but they can watch the same YouTube video simultaneously via the web.

Eventually they are going to have to make a decision. Who is willing to compromise and make the move. Erin's living in a room in her sister's and brother in law's house. She's got it pretty comfy. Garret has his awesome job with a record label that allows him to live with Dan in an apartment constructed of paper thin walls which provides for a running joke throughout the movie. What to do, what to do?

Following the formula: boy finds girl, boy looses girl, boy regains girl, the first is covered adequately. This happens for about half the movie. The second and third parts of the movie are not as strong as they should be. The conflicts that you would expect to happen, don't really happen and for the ones that do, they seem to overcome them like a knife cutting through room temperature butter. It didn't come through like the obstacles they faced were particularly tough to defeat.

One aspect of the movie that detracted from the overall tone and plot was the language. I recently heard that a freelance writer makes three cents per word in their stories. If that's the case, writer Geoff LaTulippe made about $67.35 with the swear words in this movie. It was rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. That didn't bother me, not trying to be a prude or anything. The drugs and the language were in there and they didn't add to the story. It was fluff filler and didn't give any more depth to the characters or move the story forward. I think they were using it to try to distract you from realizing the weak writing that permeated this film.

A few of the scenes were funny. Barrymore has shown that she can do an awesome job. Look at Whip It. Oh wait, she starred in and directed that one! Maybe she should have directed this one too. So much more could have come from this movie in both the comedy and romance. Grease Sing-A-Long, I'm hoping that you'll give me a good end to the summer movie season because Going the Distance didn't go the distance for me.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.