Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love stars Steve Carell as Cal, whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) suddenly announces at dinner one night that she wants a divorce, and tells him on the drive home that she cheated on him with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon). Cal proceeds to move out of their house and starts spending a lot of time at a bar in order to drown his sorrows.

At the bar, he meets a regular named Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who is a ladies man and seems to take home a different woman every night. Because he feels sorry for Cal, and also because he is tired of him moping around the bar telling everyone about his separation, Jacob volunteers to help make over Cal and teach him tricks for how to pick up women, as he hasn't dated since he met Emily as a teenager. Cal finally works up the courage to speak to a beautiful woman named Kate (Marisa Tomei), and they end up going home together and having a one night stand.

Jacob also meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a recent law school graduate studying for the bar exam, who appears to be immune to all of his typical techniques to attract women. When her boyfriend does not propose to her as she expected, she finds Jacob and plans to have a one night stand, but they end up falling for each other and Cal ends up teaching Jacob about being a good boyfriend.

Further complicating things, Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with the babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), but Jessica has a crush on Cal. All of these love stories end up colliding hilariously one day when everyone ends up in Cal and Emily's backyard.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is not only funny, but very touching. There is a great scene where Emily calls Cal pretending to need help relighting the pilot light on the water heater, but in reality she is standing in the kitchen and just wants to hear his voice. Ryan Gosling has mostly been in dramatic movies, but he gets the chance to show his comedic chops in this film, and he is very funny as well as being a very good dramatic actor. Jonah Bobo was also very good, and this is just the beginning of his film career. Although this is definitely a "chick flick," there is something for both men and women to enjoy in this movie.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Change-Up

The Change-Up is another variation on the body-change comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as Mitch, a single slacker, and Jason Bateman as his friend Dave, a married father of three. One evening after hanging out at a bar watching a sports game, they both urinate in a fountain and exclaim how they envy each others lives.

As it turns out, that fountain was magic and they wake up the next morning in each others bodies. Unfortunately, it could not be a worse time as Dave is involved in a merger at work and Mitch is about to get his big break out role in movies, which turns out to be a "lorno" (light porno). However, the fountain has been moved and they have to live each others lives until they can find the fountain.

Mitch rises to the occasion and works very hard on the merger after screwing it up, and Dave gets to enjoy life without the pressures of marriage and parenthood. Mitch also encourages Dave to go on a date with Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), who thinks he is actually Mitch, because he only dated one woman in his entire life.

Mitch and Dave also get a chance to see how their loved ones really feel. Dave realizes that is wife (Leslie Mann) is very unhappy in their marriage because he works too much and hasn't paid enough attention to her and the kids. Mitch has a conversation with his father (Alan Arkin), who he has not always gotten along with well, but learns that he loves him despite his goof-ups. In the end, Dave and Mitch learn to appreciate their lives and finally find the fountain so they can switch back into their own bodies.

Although The Change-Up did have funny moments, a lot of the humor was very childish and over the top. It relied too much on nudity and bathroom humor instead of finding more sophisticated ways to be humorous. Also, the concept of a body switch comedy is not exactly original. The audience was able to empathize with Leslie Mann's character, fortunately, because otherwise she would have just been the typical nagging wife in a buddy comedy. The Change-Up isn't a bad way to spend a lazy summer afternoon, but it's not at the level of classic R-rated comedies like The Hangover, Knocked Up, or Wedding Crashers.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Smurfs

Although I do enjoy watching kids movies, I was especially interested in seeing The Smurfs because I watched them every Saturday morning growing up in the 80's. One of the advantages of growing up and having kids is that you can use the next generation as an excuse to recycle toys, books, cartoons and movies!

The Smurfs are a group of little ("only three apples high") blue people who live in tiny mushrooms. They are hunted by Gargamel (Hank Azaria)-an evil wizard-and his cat Azrael, who are trying to hunt the smurfs in order to extract their essence. Luckily, the little blue guys are usually able to use their magic to outsmart Gargamel.

One night, Papa Smurf has a vision of the Smurfs being trapped by Gargamel, but he doesn't want to worry any of the other smurfs. While running from Gargamel and Azrael, Clumsy Smurf is sucked into a portal which opened during a blue moon. Smurfette, Papa Smuf, and several of the other smurfs go after him and are followed by Gargamel and Azrael.

They end up in Central Park in New York City, and in order to hide from Gargamel, they run into an office building and hide in a box. The box is taken home by Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris), who is an ad exec at a large New York firm. In addition to a new promotion, Patrick's wife Grace (Jayma Mays) is also pregnant with their first child and he is feeling a lot of stress and uncertainty about the future.

Patrick and Grace take in the smurfs and try to protect them from Gargamel until there is another blue moon to reopen the portal so the smurfs can go home. Hilarity ensues as the smurfs cause chaos around Manhattan and accidentally mess up the ad campaign that Patrick is working on. Eventually, Patrick realizes that the smufs just need someone to take care of them, and that he is up to the challenges of being a new dad.

The special effects are pretty good, and it was fun to see the smurfs on the big screen. Neil Patrick Harris was also very good in his role. Although Gargamel was supposed to be over the top and goofy, adults who take their kids to the movie will probably be happy when he is not on the screen because he was just a little too stupid.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

Friends With Benefits

First of all, I have to give a shout out to my best friend Janice. We went to see this movie during a "girl's night out" and both really enjoyed it!

Friends with Benefits stars Mila Kunis as Jamie, and headhunter who is trying to convince a successful blogger named Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to move to New York City to take a job as the artistic director at GQ. After a little persuasion, and showing him the "real New York," Dylan agrees to take the job.

Jamie and Dylan become friends, and one night while they are watching a cheesy romantic comedy and drinking some beer, they start discussing the concept of "friends with benefits." They are both rebounding from break ups and agree that men and women let sex become too complicated, and that things wouldn't be so messy if people just looked at it as a physical act without adding extra meaning to it.

They, of course, become friends with benefits and things seem to be going well until Jamie decides she'd like to go back on the dating scene. She meets a pediatric oncologist named Parker (Bryan Greenberg), who decides that things are getting too serious after they sleep together. Her mother convinces her to go out of town for the 4th of July, but after she flakes out on her to spend time with a recent boyfriend, Dylan invites her to LA for the holiday weekend.

In LA, they stay with Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins), his sister Annie (Jenna Elfman) and Annie's son Sam (Nolan Gould). Dylan did not tell Jamie that his father is suffering from Alzheimer's and that his mother left the family when his father became sick. Later that night, Dylan ends up comforting Jamie about her recent break up and they end up sleeping together, which Jamie thinks has more meaning this time. However, the next day she overhears a conversation between Dylan and Annie, is hurt by what Dylan says about her and immediately heads back to New York.

Jamie ignores Dylan's attempts to contact her at first, but when he tracks her down she confronts him about what he said about her and if he really ever wanted to be her friend. When his dad comes to visit from LA, they have a conversation about true love and his regrets that he let his soulmate get away. Dylan realizes that he was afraid of being hurt, and sets out to win Jamie back before it's too late.

There were great cameos in this movie from Andy Samburg, Emma Stone and Shaun White. Woody Harrelson was also hilarious as a gay sports editor at GQ and Richard Jenkins and Patricia Clarkson were terrific as Dylan's dad and Jamie's mom. Most importantly, this movie was true to how men and women in their 20's and 30's relate to each other. Also, Justin Timberlake was not afraid to make a fool of himself and showed a real talent for comedy, and the sex scenes between him and Mila Kunis were very realistic.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

This final chapter of the Harry Potter saga begins with the burial of Dobby in the garden at the Shell cottage. Harry, Ron and Hermoine then convince Griphook to sneak them into Gringotts and get them into Bellatrix Lestrange's vault to retrieve one of Voldemort's horcruxes in exchange for Godrick Gryffindor's sword. However, Griphood betrays them and they have to escape security using a dragon. However, they are able to escape with the horcrux and through visions, Harry is able to see that Voldemort knows they are searching for the horcruxes and is angry and scared. Harry also finds out that the next horcrux is at Hogwarts.

They manage to sneak into Hogwarts with the help of Dumbledore's brother, and are reunited with some of their school mates. Later, they confront Snape, who is now the headmaster of Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall then intervenes and fights Snape, who then retreats from Hogwarts. The rest of the professors and students prepare their defenses and try to hold off Voldemort and his army so Harry will have time to track down and destroy the next horcrux. Malfoy and two of his friends confront them, but after they start a fire, Harry ends up having to save them.

Voldemort uses the Elder Wand to destroy the defensive shield around Hogwarts, and they attack the school and everyone in it. Voldemort then orders Nagini to kill Snape because he believes that he can only truly command the Elder Wand is to dispose of its current master. As Snape killed Dumbledore, he would have become the master of the Elder Wand. Voldemort is able to get into the minds of everyone in Hogwarts and tells them he is calling a cease fire and is ordering his army to retreat to allow them time to bury their dead. However, he warns them that if Harry does not come to the Forbidden Forest to confront him, he will kill everyone.

Before Snape dies, Harry was able to collect some of his tears, and through his tears he learns of his whole life story. He always loved Harry's mother, and found her shortly after Voldemort killed her and Harry's father. Harry also learns that he became a horcrux that night when part of Voldemort's soul went into his body. It turns out that Snape has been on the good side all along! He sees a conversation where Dumbledore told Snape that Harry has to die in order to kill Voldemort. Harry also finds out that Dumbledore actually asked Snape to kill him because he was sick.

Before going to fulfill his destiny, Harry opens a snitch and the Resurrection Stone appears and he is able to resurrect the ghosts of his parents and two other deceased loved ones. He then confronts Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, who thinks he is killing Harry. However, Harry wakes up in a dream-like space with Dumbledore, who tells him that the only thing Voldemort killed was the part of him in Harry. He then wakes up, but Draco's mother lies to Voldemort and tells him he is dead. Voldemort then has Hagrid carry him back to Hogwarts, thinking that he and his army no longer have anyone standing in their way.

However, once back at Hogwarts Harry reveals himself to be alive and has one final battle with Voldemort. Neville Longbottom also ends up saving Ron and Harmione, who were trying to kill Voldemort's snake. It turns out that the Elder Wand never actually belonged to Snape because it was Draco Malfoy who disarmed Dumbledore. Since Harry disarmed Draco, he became the true master of the wand. Voldemort is killed for good, and as anyone who has read the book knows, the story then jumps ahead 19 years where Harry, Ginny, Ron and Harmione are all sending their own children off to Hogwarts.

The special effects in this movie are wonderful. If you didn't know better, you would think that the dragons and death eaters and all of J.K. Rowling's other creatures really existed. However, even more impressive than the special effects, is the acting of this wonderful cast. It is rare that a movie with so much action also has quiet, emotional moments where you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have had the opportunity to work with some of the best British actors since they were about 10, and they have become excellent actors in their own right. It will probably be hard to get people to see them as other characters, but they all have the ability to have bright careers in the future.

Rating: 5/5 stars


Miral is based upon the novel by Rula Jebreal, which is about four women and their lives during important moments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The movie starts at Christmastime 1947 in Jerusalem with a woman named Hind Husseini. There appears to be at least relative peace between the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans living together and celebrating the holidays in Jerusalem in the wake of the devastation of World War II. However, in 1948 the U.N. decreed the formation of the nation of Israel, and Jews flood in from all parts of the world to settle in their homeland. Unfortunately, these Jewish settlements come at the cost of the displacement of thousands of Palestinians. One day, Hind is walking down the street and comes across a large group of children who were brought to Jerusalem following a massacre in their village Deir Yassin. She takes them all in and begins an orphanage, which eventually becomes a school for hundreds of Palestinian girls.

The second part of the movie deals with two women, Nadia and Fatima, who meet in prison in 1967, shortly after the "6 Day War" with Israel. Nadia was sexually abused by her step-father, and ran away from home. She became a belly dancer in order to support herself, and one day after work she is on a bus and is harassed by an Israeli woman who notices her husband staring at her. Nadia punches the Israeli woman and is sentenced to 6 months in prison. In prison, she shares a cell with Fatima. Fatima was a nurse during the "6 Day War" and was fired after she helped a young man escape back to Jordan. He had fought with the Palestinians against the Israelis, and all of these soldiers were considered prisoners of war by Israel. Fatima feels the need to fight back against Israel, and agrees to place a bomb in a movie theater. However, the bomb does not explode and someone in the theater was able to identify her and she was sentenced to two life sentences.

After Nadia is released from prison, she marries and has her daughter, Miral. However, she commits suicide when Miral is 7 and her father sends her to Hind's school, Dar Al-Tifel. When Miral (Freida Pinto) is 17, Hind sends all the girls to a Palestinian refugee camp to help teach the children. While at the refugee camp, Miral sees Israeli soldiers demolish a Palestinian home leaving the entire family homeless, and realizes the hardships the Palestinians have to face in the refugee camps. Later, during the Intifada in 1987, she goes to a protest with her friend from school, Hadil, and Hadil is shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Miral then joins a group dedicated to fighting Israel, and falls for a young political activist, Hani. After she is arrested for her involvement in this group, Miral's father and Hind become concerned for her safety and future, and Miral has to choose between education as a path towards a better future, or continuing in an armed uprising that had been going on for 20 years with no resolution.

The movie ends with Hind's death in 1994, a few months after the Oslo peace accords were signed between Israel and Palestine. However, as the movie notes, these agreements have still not been honored almost 20 years later.

This movie provides a fascinating view into a conflict that we have heard about on the news for decades, but we are not often shown the Palestinian point of view. The movie uses real footage from these periods of history to truly illustrate the tragedies of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although Freida Pinto is a wonderful actress, I couldn't help thinking of the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" and wished that they had cast a Palestinian in the role of Miral.

This movie is available OnDemand and on DVD.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Monday, July 4, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

This is the third movie in the "Transformers" series, again starring Shia LaBoeuf as Sam Witwicky. Many other characters from the prior movies return including Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam's parents, John Turturro as Simmons, Josh Duhamel as Lennox and Tyrese Gibson as Epps. There are also several new additions to the cast, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly, replacing Megan Fox. Patrick Dempsey plays Dylan, Carly's sleazy boss, Frances McDormand plays the secretary of Defense, John Malkovich plays Sam's boss Bruce Brazos and Ken Jeong plays Jerry Wang, a crazy co-worker of Sam's.

During the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, a spacecraft called the Ark piloted by the leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), tried to escape with a weapon that would have won the war. However, it was hit by the Decepticons and crash landed on the moon. We lean that the race to the moon in the 1960's was in fact an attempt to beat the Soviet Union to the moon so they would not be able to steal any technology to be able to use against the USA. A nice treat was a cameo by Buzz Aldrin, playing himself.

Back in 2011, Sam is happy in his relationship with Carly, but despite saving the world twice and receiving a medal from President Obama, is still unable to find a job in our post-Great Recession economy. He eventually agrees to take a job in a mail room, albeit begrudgingly. One day, his co-worker Jerry Wang (Jeong), corners him and starts talking about the "dark side of the moon," says that the Autobots are in danger, and gives him a bunch of newspaper clippings. However, suddenly a Decepticon kills Wang and tries to kill Sam.

The Autobots have been sent out on various missions around the globe, and are also always on the watch for the return of the Decepticons. During a mission in the Middle East, they learn of strange happenings in Chernobyl, and travel there to discover a fuel cell from the Ark and Decepticon Shockwave and a giant drilling robot.

Optimus Prime confronts Secretary of Defense Mearing (McDormand) about why they were not informed about the discovery of the Ark. The Autobots then take a spaceship to the moon, where they discover that Sentinel Prime is still alive and has five "pillars" which can make a bridge to their planet Cybertron. They bring Sentinel Prime back to Earth, and only Optimus Prime is able to restore him to full power. Unfortunately, the humans discover that there were actually many more pillars, and the Decepticons have them.

The Autobots and the humans learn that loyalties are not what they believed they were, and the action moves from Washington D.C. to Chicago, where the Decepticons have taken the pillars in order to make the bridge to bring Cybertron to Earth and take over the human race as their slaves. The finale is of course the final battle between the Autobots and Sam and the other humans vs. the Decepticons for the fate of our planet.

This being a Michael Bay movie, the special effects were first class. This movie also had a much more coherent plot than "Transformers 2." There was much more of a feeling of needing to fight to save the Earth and the freedom of the human race and less of a feeling of just being observers of a battle between two groups of robots. However, Michael Bay is either unable or unwilling to write female characters who are not either shrews or damsels in distress who are only there to look pretty and need to be saved by some strong man. The character of Carly was an improvement, but was still basically unable to fight back or do anything for herself. Also, both John Malkovich and Ken Jeong's characters were woefully underused.

Rating: 3/5 stars