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Entries in Cameron Diaz (5)

Friday
May182012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If What to Expect When You’re Expecting is indicative of real life experiences for waiting parents, then childbearing must be full of clichés, caricatures and contrivances. It must be like a desperate, unfunny screenplay that thinks it’s exploring the spectrum of pregnancy possibilities when really it knows no more about the event than the characters that are going through it. This sad excuse for a film takes the miracle of childbirth and trivializes it with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top melodramatics and bad comedy. It’s not one of the worst of the year thanks to a solid cast that does as much as they can with very little, but it’s still fairly awful.

The story is comprised of individual vignettes of characters who are all, whether they like it or not, expecting a baby. First we meet famous health guru, Jules (Cameron Diaz), a current contestant on the latest celebrity dance show, who discovers she and her dance partner, Evan (Matthew Morrison), are expecting after throwing up on stage at the end of a live taping. Later we are introduced to Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) who are unable to have babies and are looking into adoption. Meanwhile, baby crazy Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) are so eager to raise a child that they set their phones to alert them when Wendy is ovulating. Their careful planning eventually works and Wendy soon finds herself with a baby bump. In an interesting coincidence, Gary’s dad, former racecar driver Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), and his young trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting. Finally, there’s a young couple, Marco (Chace Crawford) and Rosie (Anna Kendrick) who have sex just one time in the heat of the moment and find themselves facing something they aren’t ready for.

As is a problem with many movies of this type where multiple stories are juggled in a small amount of time, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is sloppy. Nearly all of the stories are rushed through, underexplored and underdeveloped and the result is a disconnected mess. Most movies will try to somehow link these stories together so it feels like there’s a reason for them to be told, but the majority of these characters never cross paths, unless you’re speaking in the literal sense in that they occasionally walk by each other, a lazy transition between already lazy stories if there ever was one. The longer this goes on, as you wait for it make a point or take an unexpected turn or, well, do anything at all, the less tolerating it becomes.

Any promising moment is ruined by its need to tell its stories quickly for the purpose of shortening the runtime (an unfortunate effect of vignette movies). For instance, when the young one time sexual offenders, Marco and Rosie, find out they’re pregnant, one would suspect them to contemplate abortion because, regardless of your stance on the issue, it’s a natural thought for scared young people who suddenly find themselves facing a responsibility they’re not sure they can handle to have. Marco does indeed allude to it by asking what Rosie’s going to do about her situation, but then it’s glossed over, almost like the question was never raised in the first place. When the movie eventually gets back to them after spending time with the other characters, their decision has been made and they’re fully devoted to having the baby. Their evolution is far too fast and strips the film of any realism.

Normally with these types of films, there are at least one or two stories that outshine the rest, but that’s not the case here. All, including the supposed-to-be-funny group of dads who support each other’s parental negligence, are bland and thinly written. The cast is game and most retain their charm—Elizabeth Banks is still affable and Anna Kendrick is as lovely as ever—but the best cast in the world couldn’t make these characters come to life. Simply put, there just isn’t much to What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I would say it’s a failure, but I’m not sure it was even trying.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting receives 1/5

Friday
Jun242011

Bad Teacher

The Office is one of the best shows on television. While it will be interesting to see how it fares without Steve Carell in the upcoming season, it has firmly cemented itself as one of this decade’s smartest, freshest, hippest comedies. Many things contribute to its success, not the least of which is its sharp writing. Though television shows have many writers, two of The Office’s most celebrated are Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who bring a certain youthfulness and fun to each episode they write. They’re so good on that show, one can’t help but wonder why their cinematic endeavors are so abysmal. Despite having the comedic talents of Jack Black and Michael Cera, 2009’s Year One managed to disgust and appall without ever actually entertaining and their newest film, Bad Teacher, follows suit. It’s cruel, heartless and unfunny. It’s a movie that disrespects itself, the audience and the art of filmmaking. It’s a cinematic shamble with a thin plot and even thinner characters. And yes, it’s one of the worst so far this year.

Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth, a gold digging teacher who has just been dumped by her wealthy fiancé. Upset that she just lost her money (but not so upset about losing the man), she begins to chase after substitute teacher Scott, played by Justin Timberlake, who is also blessed with riches. He’s the unassuming type, however, and doesn’t give into her come-ons. In her vanity, she decides a breast enhancement will fix her problems and will do anything she can to gather up the money she needs for the operation, though her admirer, P.E. teacher Russell, played by Jason Segel, insists she’s perfect the way she is.

Let’s just call that plot (though “plot” may not be the right word to describe a movie about a girl raising money for a boob job) what it really is: a vehicle for sweetheart Cameron Diaz to be as vulgar as possible. You’ll get to hear her say things that, and I’m confident about this, you’ve never heard her say before. She is clearly embracing the uncensored nature of her character and having fun with it. Unfortunately, shocking language does not always equate with comedy. Never has that been more apparent than in Bad Teacher.

The reason behind its comedic emptiness stems from the fact that Elizabeth is one of the most wretched, hateful characters to appear onscreen in quite some time. She treats her co-workers like scum and her students even worse. She shows up to class hung-over and drugged out, swindles her kids’ parents out of money and, fearful of having to face the consequences of her own selfish actions, sabotages another teacher who is rightfully suspicious of her and concerned about her students’ academic futures. I get that the premise of the film, as suggested by the title, is inherently mean-spirited, but it’s a premise without comedic value.

Some movies with such despicable characters have a narrative arc that leads to a late movie redemption. Bad Teacher provides the redemption, but forgets the arc. For its entire runtime, Elizabeth cares about nobody but herself before suddenly having a change of heart, realizing that perhaps money shouldn’t be her prime motivation in a relationship. This moment comes from nowhere and the scenes leading up to it do nothing to establish her actions, yet we’re supposed to find her likable. I don’t suspect many people will.

The most disheartening aspect of Bad Teacher is its wonderful list of supporting players, all of whom are given nearly nothing to do or interesting to say. Thomas Lennon from Reno 911!, Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family and Jerry Lambert from those great Playstation 3 commercials (which, coincidentally, pack more laughs in a short 30 seconds than this entire movie), show up to lend their considerable talents, but they’re all wasted. I suppose you could consider Bad Teacher a sad commentary on the state of our public education system, though you’d really have to be reaching to land on that conclusion (but I guess its defenders need something to argue). Regardless, the film remains vicious, poorly written, boring and, even at a concise 89 minutes, exhausted and drawn out.

Bad Teacher receives 1/5

Friday
Jan142011

The Green Hornet

Films based on existing properties carry baggage. Those who have no previous experience with said property look at it differently than fans. While the former can look at it with a blank slate and no preconceived notions, the latter group, at least to some extent, expects it to follow the property’s traditional formula. It is this stark divide that will keep The Green Hornet from reaching major success. Irritated echoes that it was nothing like the old television and radio shows rang throughout the theater as the film came to a close. I can’t vouch for that claim because my ignorance with the franchise stretches far. I fit snugly into the no-previous-experience crowd, which allowed me to enjoy it for what it was, though it’s still a messy movie that comes just shy of being recommendable.

The story is mighty familiar. It follows a rich kid who has just inherited his family’s wealth after the death of his father and decides to throw on a mask and clean up the mean streets. The rich kid this time (as opposed to Bruce Wayne) is named Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), who suddenly finds himself in charge of his father’s renowned newspaper, The Sentinel, which he uses to spread the news of his alter ego, The Green Hornet. His sidekick (and former coffee maker), Kato (Jay Chou) is the brains behind the duo and is able to build useful crime fighting tools, not the least of which includes installing as many deadly weapons as their car, The Black Beauty, can hold.

The villain is played by recent Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz, whose brilliance in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds is toned down here in favor of witty one-liners and goofy mannerisms that stem mostly from the character’s inferiority complex—his desire to be scarier than others. Even when he isn’t on top of his game, however, Waltz charms. Without exception, he is the best thing about The Green Hornet, despite a serious lack of screen time in the first hour.

There’s also little problem with the rest of the cast. Chou may not fully have a grip on the English language, but it isn’t readily noticeable. His comedic timing is surprisingly accurate and he doesn’t stumble through his lines like, say, Jackie Chan. Cameron Diaz, who plays Reid’s newly hired secretary and criminology expert, is good too, though it’s apparent her blonde bombshell days are coming to an end at nearly 40 years old. Seth Rogen is where The Green Hornet falters. Although he has the party boy/funny man side of his character down pat, he isn’t entirely convincing as a superhero. To be fair, his character isn’t given much to do, but that’s what makes him so uninteresting. He’s savvy in neither brains nor brawn, so most of his time spent in battle is behind cover or kicking people while they’re down.

Kato is undoubtedly the star of the show, showcasing skills that Reid simply doesn’t have, but his abilities go beyond what any normal person can do, which include apparent robotic vision and super human speed. It all comes off as a tad ridiculous, but I suspect that was the point. In a cinematic world where superhero movies are becoming increasingly darker, The Green Hornet plays lighthearted and fun. It’s a nice change of pace, but this approach proves to lack the depth of films like The Dark Knight or Watchmen.

The Green Hornet is one of director Michel Gondry’s most straightforward efforts, but this type of content seems beneath him. Rather than play with ideas like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Be Kind Rewind, he is forced to go through the same old song and dance we’ve seen countless times. While certainly no slouch staging action scenes, a skill he isn’t too familiar with, they are still never fully engaging. The ending offers up the most excitement, but by that point, the film had already worn out its welcome. There is an impressive resume behind this thing, but it means very little in what amounts to nothing more than mediocrity. The Green Hornet may only be a minor waste of time, but it’s a complete waste of talent.

The Green Hornet receives 2.5/5

Wednesday
Jun232010

Knight and Day

Last week, Toy Story 3 was presented to the world to almost complete adulation, sans a not too surprising negative review from the critic everyone loves to hate, Armond White. In front of that marvelous film was a short from Pixar called Day and Night, which has more thought and ingenuity put into it than this week’s film reversely titled Knight and Day. That in no way makes it a bad movie, however. On the contrary, it’s a blast, a summer popcorn flick that asks you to check your brain at the door. Like the recent Prince of Persia, I was happy to oblige.

The film stars Cameron Diaz as June, a woman on her way home to attend her sister’s wedding. As a gift to her soon-to-be-wed sis, she has been restoring her father’s old GTO hoping that her sister will love it as much as he did. When she arrives at the airport, she bumps into Roy, played by Tom Cruise, a rogue agent on the run from the FBI after being set up by his former partner. June doesn’t yet know this, however, and steps foot onto the plane, unaware of what is about to happen. In the bathroom, she musters up the courage to make a move on Roy only to walk out and find everybody dead, including the two pilots. After safely crash landing in a field, June is drugged and wakes up in her apartment the next day. She thinks she has seen the last of Roy, but he keeps showing up and eventually drags her into his predicament.

There’s more story, something having to do with a battery that can light up entire cities, code named “zephyr,” but what really matters is what I’ve detailed above. Where the two go and why seems unimportant compared to what they do there. The wild action and witty vocal jabs they take at each other are more than enough to please, even if the story seems a bit redundant of other similar pseudo spy comedies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Get Smart.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise and his personal life, but the man is a fine actor. Outside of a few select performances, namely the recent Valkyrie, he has always found a way to impress the guys and woo the ladies. He emits vigor and likability at every turn and it’s never been as apparent as it is here. He isn’t merely a side character as he has been in other comedies, such as Tropic Thunder or his brief cameo appearance in Austin Powers in Goldmember. He’s allowed to do his own thing for nearly two hours and he’s great. He’s the kind of actor that can make us forget that what we’re seeing is mindless and surprise us with his versatile mix of humor and physical stunts.

It was the late film critic Pauline Kael who once wrote, “The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn’t go at all.” Knight and Day perfectly encapsulates that sentiment. This is the type of movie where the hero stands in wide open spaces surrounded by FBI agents, yet never gets shot. It’s the type of movie where the characters continually make bad decisions. It’s the type of movie whose plot twists are contrived and predictable. It’s stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid.

When I walked out of Knight and Day, I felt like I had just watched the big screen version of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Action Movies.” It’s not a poorly produced film—on the contrary, it’s quite good—but it’s hard to take this stuff seriously. This is fluff through and through, an entertaining time waster that will drift from my mind as the summer moves along. But rather than look towards the future, I’m reveling in the present and I’m finding that Knight and Day is easy to recommend.

Knight and Day receives 3.5/5

Friday
May212010

Shrek Forever After

I have an odd relationship with Shrek. I love the characters, I love the universe and I love the idea, but I wouldn’t say I love any of the movies. After revisiting the previous three entries to prepare for Shrek Forever After, I would say the first two films are equally good in their own different ways, but neither reach the greatness of, say, a Pixar film. The third has its moments, but is not recommendable. This installment picks up a bit of the slack from the previous film and, though still only mediocre, it’s enjoyable enough for a view.

The last time we saw our hero (voiced by Mike Myers), he was preparing for fatherhood with his wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), understandably hesitant, but nevertheless excited. Now it’s been a year since his children came into the world and his humdrum daily routine is starting to wear thin. Every day he is woken up at the crack of dawn by his kids, Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) bursts through the door uninvited with his dragon/donkey hybrid children and a celebrity tour bus cruises his swamp in the hopes of getting a glimpse at the newly minted hero of Far, Far Away. But Shrek selfishly wants to be himself again before all of this happened. He wants people to fear him when he walks into town, not cheer him. Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn) learns of his wish and makes him a deal: give up one day of his past in exchange for 24 hours of being his old self again. Shrek agrees, but Rumpelstiltskin, being the master manipulator he is, takes away the most important day of Shrek’s life: his birth. This means when the 24 hour period is up he will disappear forever.

When Shrek originally debuted back in 2001, it was like a breath of fresh air. The fairy tale spoof had never been done before, or at least done as well. It took all of the beloved tales we grew up with and twisted them to fit their story, making fun of their tropes while using them to craft a thrilling adventure. It worked like magic and Shrek became a hit. But as the series went on, its originality began to dwindle. It became too bogged down by pop culture references and began to distance itself from its once unique parody. Shrek Forever After continues the tradition. The fun it had with fairy tales is all but gone in this iteration, replacing it with a fairly traditional story of love and enlightenment, proving that one doesn’t know what one has until it’s gone.

I would argue that the absence of parody hurts the picture, but truth be told, it doesn’t. It may drop the spoof, but it also drops the pop culture references, not entirely, but enough that they hold no real impact. The story exists in and of itself. It stays in its fairy tale world and rarely ventures out into our territory and it works, even if only slightly.

Shrek Forever After isn’t particularly funny, but it has heart and its characters are as charming and likable as ever. Donkey in particular has always been, and still is, awesome thanks in large part to the exceptional voice acting from Eddie Murphy, but it’s Mike Myers who shines as Shrek here. Despite his name adorning the title, Shrek has never had much to do outside of scream and roar at his annoying cohorts, but here he is forced to confront his own demons and make a decision that will affect not only him, but the entire kingdom of Far, Far Away. Myers voices him in a hardened, yet sympathetic way that finally, after many failed attempts, shows the beauty on the inside of the character rather than the ugly on the out.

I wouldn’t say this is a return to form, but it’s a fitting send off to the beloved ogre that has been around for nearly 10 years now. Assuming this is the last entry, it looks like Shrek might get his “happily ever after” after all.

Shrek Forever After receives 3/5