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Entries in James Marsden (4)

Friday
Sep072012

Bachelorette

This week’s limited release, Bachelorette, is bound to remind most viewers of Bridesmaids and The Hangover, two films with similar ideas and settings, but whereas those movies had charm, smarts, mystery and laughs, Bachelorette has none. The story centers on four best friends, Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Becky (Rebel Wilson), Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher), who have all gathered together to celebrate Becky’s marriage and they’re the most appalling people you could possibly imagine. Aside from the relatively sweet and innocent Becky, these women are vile and ugly and they—supposed best friends—don’t evet treat other well, much less anyone else. The characters are too mean to be funny or likable and even at a brief 87 minutes, Bachelorette ends up being one of the biggest wastes of time of the year.

Shortly after the film begins, the four girls find themselves all together for the first time in a long time. Their way of reconnecting is to scold each other and bicker about events that happened many years ago. This early event is, believe it or not, the least unpleasant in the entire movie. Later, at the reception, Gena calls Becky out on her stint with bulimia in high school, which, if we’re putting a positive spin on things, was at least said to her face; most of the discussion that goes on about Becky is obscene, off-putting and behind her back, mostly directed towards her larger body type. Then, while on a drunken stupor, Regan, Gena and Katie rip her wedding dress while trying to fit two of them in it (because look how large it is!). It’s this event that puts them on a twilight adventure to fix the dress before the wedding the next morning and it’s a downward spiral from there.

The things these women say and do to each other and others are so despicable that they aren’t worthy of repeating here, but they aren’t the only awful characters. The men in the movie, spearheaded by Trevor, played by James Marsden, are just as bad. Early on, Trevor condones date raping Katie while she’s in a state of inability to consent, but not before heading to a local strip club seemingly for the sole purpose of demeaning the dancers. The only person that scrapes by unscathed is Joe, played by Kyle Bornheimer, who treats everyone as kind as can be and refuses to sleep with Katie, even as she (probably unknowingly) beckons him to do so. He’s the only person in the film with a conscience, but his presence comes off as contrived in a sea of such shamelessness, as if he was put there solely because the film needed someone who wasn’t a complete and utter ass.

No doubt some will call this a black comedy, where you would expect this type of behavior (it would be hard to justify liking it as anything else), but it’s not dark enough to be called such. Instead, it’s just incredibly mean-spirited. Seemingly the only time the characters don’t say something mean is when they’re too drunk or high to speak, which hardly qualifies them as upstanding individuals. Bachelorette comes off like a movie made for and by high school bullies, the pretty people who spoke down to others simply because of their quirky personalities or appearances.

Did I mention the film simply isn’t funny either? Of course, one wouldn’t expect it to be with characters as deplorable as this. Bachelorette is a wanna-be, a movie that tries so desperately to be like those aforementioned popular comedies, but mistakes cruelty for wit. It’s easily the most vicious movie of the year. To find amusement in it is to find amusement in hate.

Bachelorette receives 0.5/5

Friday
Sep162011

Straw Dogs

Although I, unfortunately, have never seen Sam Peckinpah’s original Straw Dogs, I’ve heard plenty about it. I was told about its uncomfortable rape scenes, off-putting violence and general nihilism. The more I heard, the more it sounded like a spiritual companion to Last House on the Left, a film (or two if you include the remake) that I simply cannot handle. That movie is sick, twisted and it disguises evil as good, looking at the world from a pessimistic, animalistic viewpoint. I wasn’t exactly a fan of that film and the trailers for the remake of Straw Dogs, which looked so similar to that movie, didn’t get me particularly excited, but after seeing it, the contrast between the two is clear. Straw Dogs isn’t sensationalism. It may get a rise out of its viewers, but that’s not its goal. It aims to tell a story, albeit a dark and violent one, and it does it well. If you can stomach it, it’s well worth seeing.

David (James Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) are a happily married couple. They both work in show business, David a writer and Amy an actress, where they met one day while working on the same television program. Now, they are getting away from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle and heading to Blackwater, Mississippi, Amy’s hometown. Upon arriving, they run into Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), Amy’s high school boyfriend. He and his buddies have a contracting business and they are employed by David and Amy to fix their shed, which lost some of its roof thanks to a recent hurricane. As time goes on and Charlie begins to manipulate David, tension mounts, inevitably leading to a violent confrontation.

Straw Dogs is a smart movie that doesn’t feel gratuitous like many other similar films, including the aforementioned Last House on the Left. It doesn’t jump right into the abyss, eager to get to the bloodshed. No, it takes the time to build its characters up before killing them off. The tension builds not through attempts at excessive style or moody music or jump scares; it slowly percolates through dialogue and character interaction, which is no small feat. By the time the bloody end rolls around, you’ve invested yourself in what’s going on and it’s practically guaranteed to get your heart pumping like you just ran a marathon.

What disappoints, however, is how we end up reaching that bloody end. Throughout the film, there’s a bout of wits between Charlie and David. Neither likes the other, David aware of Charlie’s lust for his wife and Charlie seeing David as an unworthy companion to the girl he used to love. There’s also an odd sexual connection between Charlie and Amy; some of Amy’s bizarre actions are evidence enough of that. The way these are presented in the film is more than enough to make us believe violence could erupt, but the film instead relies on its B story to get us there. It involves an autistic man and a 15 year old cheerleader that goes nowhere fast, other than to set up a narrative contrivance that will lead the man into David and Amy’s home while the cheerleader’s father, alongside Charlie and his goons, stands outside with weapons demanding his head.

The way the film ultimately gets there is unsatisfactory, but at the same time, that route gives it a moral compass. David refuses to give up the man because he knows the guys outside will severely harm or even kill him. He knows keeping him in the house will lead to violence, but he doesn’t have it in him to turn over a man who is unable to comprehend what he did. Unlike Last House on the Left, where the “heroes” sought out their victims in the middle of the night and killed them in cold blood, David is protecting someone. He only kills because he has to.

If nothing else, that is what sets Straw Dogs apart from the rest of the pack, a likable main character who doesn’t try to justify his actions with flimsy reasoning. The film doesn’t romanticize the violence he inflicts on his attackers and it treats an earlier rape scene as it is, as an awful, soul crushing event. It’s not the most technically accomplished film ever made, but it knows what it’s doing. It works in its own crazy way and, though it’s certainly not for everybody, it’s one to keep your eye on.

Straw Dogs receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jul302010

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

A few weeks back my Marmaduke review carried the headline, “Talking Dogs Will Never Be Funny.” After making a statement so matter-of-factly, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt you. One day, I will see a talking dog movie that is funny. Today is not that day. The latest film to bleed my ears dry with the inherent nonsense of a talking animal picture is Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the unnecessary sequel to the 2001 original.

In the first film, we learned that all dogs and cats are natural enemies (spoiler alert!). Their factions had been in a long term battle for supremacy amongst the humans. The dogs took the title of “man’s best friend” to heart while the cats hoped to eliminate them and become the new household pet. In the sequel, not much has changed. Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler) has a similar plan. She plans to make all the dogs in the world go mad, which would turn them against their owners who would have no choice but to lock them up. However, Kitty’s plan would also harm the humans, something the good cats in the M.E.O.W. squad don’t want, which forces them and the dogs at D.O.G. Headquarters to team up against their will. Headed by Butch (voiced by Nick Nolte) and joined by new recruit Diggs (voiced by James Marsden) and M.E.O.W. agent Catherine (voiced by Christina Applegate), they set out to stop Kitty and keep the natural balance.

I’ll admit. I enjoyed the original. The reason for that is due to its grounding in its own fictional world. It played it straight, imaginative and fun. In the sequel, it branches out into spoof territory taking on Scarface, Terminator, The Silence of the Lambs and referencing the James Bond series, quite literally, dozens of times. Its shameless attempts to pander to the adult audience is depressing and unfunny. They won’t work even for those familiar with the pictures it’s joking on, so don't expect the kids to understand. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.

If there’s one thing in the world I hate, it’s animal puns. If you’ve ever seen a live action talking animal movie, you’ve heard one. They’re insufferable and grating, the least funny of all jokes on the laugh spectrum, and they’re in spades here. To put it simply, Marmaduke now has a serious contender for one of the most annoying movies of the year. Take for instance the vehicle the dogs ride in to get to D.O.G. Headquarters that, upon arriving at their destination, is put into “Stay” rather than “Park.”

Most jokes play out one of those two ways: animal gags or film references. It’s only about an hour and 20 minutes long, but you’ll hear every tick of the clock as the seconds go by. Five minutes will seem like ten. Ten will seem like twenty. Twenty will feel like an hour.

There’s not much else to say that hasn’t been said before, either in other reviews or about previous films in the genre. You either like these things or you don’t. Personally, with only one or two exceptions, I loathe them. Cats and Dogs may have gotten by in 2001 for being somewhat original in a genre that had yet to be exploited, but its sequel is merely another drop in the bucket of talking dog movies as far as I’m concerned.

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore receives 1/5

Friday
Apr162010

Death at a Funeral

Rarely does a movie come along that is so funny you laugh until you can't breathe. The British 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral is one of those rarities. While a lot of British humor is hit and miss with American audiences, Death at a Funeral successfully bridged that gap and made itself accessible to everyone domestic and abroad. The remake can only wish to attain that status. It tries hard, but ultimately this Americanized Death at a Funeral feels like a shoddy rehash of the wonderful original.

The film stars Chris Rock as Aaron, the oldest son of his recently deceased father. Today is his burial day and the turnout is great. Everyone from his family, as well as many of his friends, have all shown up to give him a fond farewell. Among them are his brother Russell (Danny Glover), his author son Ryan (Martin Lawrence), his nephew (Columbus Short), his niece Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and her boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden). But thanks to some hallucinogenic drugs and a little person named Frank (Peter Dinklage), who claims to have had some, shall we say, uncouth rendezvous with him, his funeral is about to get a little more zany than the usual.

Death at a Funeral follows its British predecessor to the letter. The writer, Dean Craig, penned both scripts, though it really seems more like a copy and paste job than a whole new script in and of itself. This version follows the original, quite literally, scene by scene and rehashes the exact same jokes word for word. There are minor differences here and there, but by and large this is the same movie.

Which is to say the writing is brilliant. The absurd twists and turns both movies make are delightful and work despite their inherent goofiness. The writing takes a morbid subject and somehow wrings laughs out of a period normally set aside for grieving.

Or at least that's how the original worked. What this remake proves is how crucial comedic delivery is to a film. Despite using the same jokes that came from the same writer who more or less used the same script, this version of the film lacks laughs because the actors simply aren't up to the challenge. Rock is a poor replacement for Matthew Macfayden, who played his part in the original. Macfayden brought the character to life. He played him in a soft spoken kind of way. You could tell he was grieving over his father and in distress by the crazy events unfolding around him. All he wanted was to get the day over with and move on. Rock doesn't do that. You never sense that he, or any other attendee for that matter, is grieving in any way. He stands up there and does his usual schtick better suited for a stand-up routine, but never brings any depth to his character. Most actors fall into this category.

That is except for James Marsden. Playing the role Alan Tudyk knocked out of the park in the original, Marsden breaks from the monotony of the rest of the cast and switches his performance up. Rather than simply mimicking the cast of the original, he is allowed to roam free and be as goofy as he wants. Being the unfortunate victim of an accidental acid hit doesn't hurt of course, but nevertheless he plays his part wonderfully and produces the most laughs of anyone in the film.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is simply an inferior product to the original. Contrary to last week's Date Night, which had bad writing, but was saved by excellent performances from two hilarious leads, Death at a Funeral has terrific writing, but is hurt by poor performances from actors who don't know what to do with their characters. I wouldn't say I hated this Americanized remake, but why would I recommend it when I can simply point readers to the far superior original?

Death at a Funeral receives 2.5/5