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Entries in Leslie Mann (5)

Wednesday
Dec192012

This Is 40

If you ask me, there are two Judd Apatows: the director and the writer. The director is like Kevin Smith, a man who doesn’t really do much behind the camera in regard to cinematic flare, but knows how to pull a great comedic performance from his actors. The writer, however, is more like Woody Allen. His movies, despite their vulgarity, often hit deeper truths that come from a terrifically structured story, but are long winded, to the point where that sound structure starts to sag, usually all the way to their unnecessary and disappointing conclusions. With the sole exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin, whose runtime felt necessary to the story, all of his movies are like this, from Knocked Up to this week’s This Is 40. That meaning is still there, but you’ll have to sit through a lot of nonsense to get to it.

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real life wife) are a married couple who are about to have their 40th birthdays. Naturally, they’re struggling with that realization, especially in the face of their growing troubles. Financially, Pete’s upstart record label, Unfiltered Records, isn’t doing too hot and Debbie’s shop isn’t pulling in enough to keep them afloat. At home, they have their hands full with their two daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), the former of whom has hit that rebellious teenage phase all parents dread. Their sex life is on the decline and neither of them are in particularly good standing with their fathers either. Their seemingly blissful existence is about to be tested.

This Is 40, at its core, isn’t really about age, though one could argue their concerns and stresses stem from it. Rather, the film is about life in general, the type of struggles any family could go through, whether they be in their 40s, 60s or even their 20s. It’s about that inevitable period of time in a marriage when things get so tough that the validity of the marriage comes into question. All couples go through it at some point and the question becomes: do you fight through the rough patches or give in? As a 45 year old man married to a 40 year old woman raising two daughters, the story feels like a personal one from Apatow, like he has lived through much of what happens onscreen, albeit to a more comedic extent. If you haven't lived through it, This Is 40 will remind you of your parents, as many movies about aging couples do. It reminds of their struggle with age and mortality, money and lack thereof, and even how your father would fart and laugh while your mom cringes in disgust.

However, the weak link, the thing tearing those reminders down, is Paul Rudd. Although he has proven to be a solid comedic performer in the past, he has always had one problem: he can’t keep it together. During the funnier parts, like the opening scene where he takes a Viagra and talks about his penis, noticeable cracks in his façade seep through. In a movie like, say, I Love You, Man, where it’s all about laughs and the story means nothing, it’s okay, but in an Apatow film that is trying to reach deeper meaning, where the drama is just as, if not more, important than the comedy, it’s a problem.

Because of this, This Is 40 is the weakest and most tonally inconsistent directorial effort from Apatow yet. But again, there is some truthful resonance here, even if it is hidden in a bloated film that runs well over two hours (someone desperately needed to take the scissors to this thing and cut out 20 minutes, at least). In the end the film is optimistic about love, life and family while still acknowledging how hard they can be. In that sense, it’s realistic, but still finds the time to flourish it up with more than a few laugh-out-loud gut busters. This Is 40 is going to be a tough movie to sell, given that the younger crowd won’t be able to relate and the older crowd may find its more juvenile moments off-putting, but it still works, even if it’s on the basest of levels.

This Is 40 receives 3/5

Friday
Aug172012

ParaNorman

Animation is too often thought of as a children’s medium, which is an unfair classification. While it does tend to skew towards them, adults can be just as thrilled, delighted, scared and amused as any young kid. This week’s ParaNorman is evidence of that and it hits all of those emotions many times. This is the first film since 2009’s underrated gem 9 that feels more mature and more alive than most other conventional animated films. Despite its PG rating, it takes many risks in its sometimes unnerving tone, frightening visuals and boundary pushing jokes (let’s just say some parents won’t be pleased by a late movie character reveal) and it’s absolutely wonderful. This is not animation for kids. This is animation for everyone.

The film follows Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy who has a special gift: he can see and talk to the dead. The people of Blithe Hollow think he’s a freak, as they watch him walk down the street seemingly talking to the air. What they don’t realize is that the afterlife is indeed a real thing and Norman gets to watch as people journey through it. Perhaps appropriately, he’s a horror fan and stays up most nights watching scary movies on television. The walls of his rooms are lined with zombie posters, his slippers are zombie heads and his alarm clock is a tombstone with an arm sticking out of it and a big “RIP” on the front. Naturally, his odd behavior hasn’t landed him many friends, but he soon learns he’s more important than even he realized. His crazy uncle, whom he was told not to talk to and who happens to share Norman’s powers, suddenly dies. His spirit tells Norman that he must now keep an evil witch at bay. It’s approaching the 300 year anniversary since her death and he must read a book at her resting place before sundown or the dead will spring to life. Unfortunately, Norman is unsuccessful, so he’s forced to set out and correct his blunder.

ParaNorman feels like something “The Simpsons” writers would make if they went a bit darker and tried to tackle horror. It’s fearless, imaginative and incredibly clever. It has plenty of throwaway gags that are surprisingly effective if you catch them, including one billboard gag exclaiming that the local school would be hosting the “Spelling Bee next Wensday.” It’s moments like these that highlight how the filmmakers left no stone unturned. They packed as much as they could into a short 93 minute runtime and somehow pulled it off seamlessly. Gags like that are usually followed by a dramatic or scary scene, but the tone never falters. It never feels inconsistent, like they needed to pick one and stick to it. They take everything that’s great about laughing and crying and being scared and throw it together to form a magical piece of entertainment.

The fact that the animation is smooth and pretty should go without saying; it’s the film’s smarts that surprise the most. It references and spoofs a number of other horror movies, including Halloween, Friday the 13th and those classic Hammer horror films. The opening, in particular, is wonderfully reminiscent of a horror film double feature many would find playing at their local theaters back in the 70’s. It’s a love letter to the genre itself and the unique experience that genre delivers, and it continues this admiration throughout. It creates a voice of its own with a downright wonderful story that concludes in an incredible fashion that manages to be terrifying, sad and beautiful all in one sweep, but it never loses its respect for the genre it obviously endears.

In a strange way, ParaNorman is even a bit profound, finding an odd peace in death, though it’s not quite as involving as this year’s wonderful Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty, where the possibility of life after death was treated less factually, but it nevertheless remains interesting. In the movie, the characters must face their fears, so it’s only appropriate it doesn’t shy away from the reality of death, everyone’s biggest fear. By the time the end rolls around and Norman faces an enemy that is far different than what many will expect, the film has taken on a whole new meaning. ParaNorman wears many faces, both thematically and narratively, but they all combine to create something truly special.

ParaNorman receives 4.5/5

Friday
Aug052011

The Change-Up

Redundancy in cinema is commonplace. There are only so many stories to tell and most films end up regurgitating story points from those that came before, but none seem more worn out than the “body switch” subgenre. It was tired well before now, but still we have The Change-Up to battle against. It’s a movie that requires very little of its audience, but in a marathon day where I sat through four different movies with this being the last one, mentally exhausted by the time it came around, I still found it inane and generally unfunny. Just think how much I could have hated it had I actually thought through it.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a lawyer who spends far too much time worrying about his job, despite his wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and three children (including twin babies) back home who need his attention. His best friend, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), on the other hand, lives alone, has no job (though he has just lined up an acting gig in a “lorno,” a light porno) and spends most nights with a different woman. One night, after a drunken bar visit, they talk about how great each other’s lives are, Dave jealous of Mitch’s carefree lifestyle and Mitch of Dave’s loving family. While simultaneously urinating in a fountain, they wish they could switch lives. When they wake up, they find their wish has come true. Dave is now in Mitch’s body and vice versa.

Despite its been-there-done-that feel, The Change-Up is not a bad idea. Its two lead stars are charismatic and different enough that it’s relatively fun watching them play each other. It’s hard to keep things straight sometimes when you’re watching Ryan Reynolds play Jason Bateman playing Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re familiar enough with their usual onscreen personas, you’ll get the jokes. Bateman, for instance, is usually typecast as your typical nice guy, but he’s definitely playing against type here. He’s loud, rude and abrasive, not at all like the straight man we’ve come to know over the years.

The problem is that the characters, no matter which body they are in, are unlikable. Before the switch, Dave complains about his life, defining his marriage to his wife and having their three children as a mistake. As he says, he “pissed away” his life. Mitch is despicable in another way. He’s a vulgar, misogynistic loser who disregards others and treats Dave’s children like dirt. After the body switch, he tells Dave’s daughter to always solve her problems with violence and he carries around the twins by the back of their necks like cats. His abusive tendencies towards those around him make him hard to sympathize with or, most importantly, laugh at, despite Bateman giving it his all. Of course, as is par for the course in these types of movies, both characters learn valuable life lessons that any viewer will be able to see coming from a mile away, but these late movie redemptions don’t forgive its mean-spirited attitude.

This particular body switch is the most interesting since Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, or at least it would have been had it not been assumed the film could be carried solely off watching the two actors play exaggerated versions of each other. I could complain about the unnecessary side story that has something do with Mitch’s father, played by Alan Arkin of all people, getting married, but I don’t think that matters to this movie’s target audience. If you’re wondering if that’s you, here’s a quick test. Within the first five minutes, one of Dave’s babies shoots poop into his mouth. Did you laugh?

The Change-Up receives 2/5

Friday
Apr152011

Rio

Fair or not, I set a high standard for animated films because I adore animation. The format has given me some of my most memorable and magical trips to the cinema—Pixar, Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks, all have given me enough reasons to hold onto the child within me with their fantastical tales of adventure and wonder—so when I sit down to watch one, I expect something great. Unfortunately, not all movies are worth writing home about (including a few of the aforementioned DreamWorks films). Rio is one of those movies. If the audience reaction at my screening is indicative of how it is going to be received, Rio will be a smash hit at the box office, but for my money, it’s not quite worth the price of admission.

As the film begins, a baby Blue Macaw is being taken from its natural habitat in Brazil and shipped overseas to be sold in an American pet shop. However, its cage falls out of the truck it is riding in before reaching the shop and is picked up by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She imaginatively names him Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and they spend the next 15 years living happily together. However, she soon finds out that Blu could very well be the last male of his species and to keep the Blue Macaw from going extinct, she is forced to take him back to his original home in Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last known female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Of course, things don’t go as planned. The two birds naturally don’t like each other, but are forced to work together when they are birdnapped and chained by the feet by a man who plans to sell them for loads of money. Naturally, they escape and begin to find a fancy for each other as they go along their adventure. That’s obvious and shouldn’t be regarded as a spoiler. What matters in this case is whether or not it’s funny and, as sad as it is to say, it’s mostly not. Aside from a handful of passable chuckles, the jokes fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both). They’re either simpleminded (monkeys texting each other “Ooh ooh ahh ahh!” is far too easy) or they’re unoriginal. You’ve heard these jokes, or at least variations of them, before. Many, many times. It's so derivative, in fact, that it even replicates a joke from last week’s abysmal R rated stoner comedy, Your Highness, which itself had been used previously in many other earlier films. The joke in question is a person singing badly out of tune. It wasn’t funny in Your Highness (although to be fair, nothing was funny in Your Highness) and it’s not funny here either.

If there’s anything to squeeze out of the jokes, it’s the delivery. The voice actors do a relatively good job of bringing forth some enthusiasm, especially Jamie Foxx and will.i.am, who play two birds who just love to break out into song at every chance possible. The complication, however, is that the voices are so recognizable it becomes distracting. On top of those already mentioned, there’s Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and more. All, especially Lopez and Morgan, are so familiar that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the characters from the voices behind them.

As should be expected at this point, Rio is in 3D, which only serves to detract from the experience even more. A few weeks ago, Rango, the first non-3D animated movie to come along in quite some time, proved once and for all that the extra dimension isn't needed. It was a wonderful movie, one of the best of the year so far actually, and it worked without resorting to the overused gimmick. Even when 3D works as intended by extending the depth of field, it comes at a price and dims the visuals due to the tinted glasses. And in a film about colorful animals set in as lively a place as the tropical Rio de Janeiro, stripping the brightness is the last thing you want to do. Usually, 3D is merely an annoyance, but in Rio, it’s a serious and unforgivable problem.

Still, I suppose the animation is good, but that’s hardly a compliment anymore given how much computer animation technology has progressed. Even smaller animation studios have to try pretty hard to look ugly. To put it simply, Rio is merely average, but if that must be noted, it should also be noted that it’s completely harmless. But consider this, if you will. The funniest part of this experience is the Ice Age short that comes before called Scrat’s Continental Crack-up (and it was even funnier the first time I saw it in front of last year’s Gulliver’s Travels). If the unrelated short at the beginning is more enjoyable than the feature length film that comes after, can Rio really be considered a success?

Rio receives 2.5/5

Friday
Dec102010

I Love You Phillip Morris

The road to release can be a long and grueling one for certain films. I Love You Phillip Morris can attest to it. While many factors contribute to the thought process of how and when a movie should be released, many believe the problem here came from the explicit homosexual content. Despite not having much of a problem finding a distributor in foreign countries, American distributors were hesitant to pick it up because homosexuality is still considered taboo and frowned upon (though it’s about time we all grow up and get over it). It’s a sad predicament because I Love You Phillip Morris is quite good. I don’t find myself bitter that I had to wait so long to see it—it’s no masterpiece—but now that I have, I’m glad I did.

Of course, the stated reason it took so long to find a distributor is purely speculative. In all honesty, I Love You Phillip Morris is a tough film to sell. It’s based on a true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a church going man with a wife and a kid. He’s even a cop and has sworn it as his duty to protect the law. Except all of that is a lie. He is gay, he doesn’t seem to be all that religious and he’s a con man. One day, on his way back from a rendezvous with one of his lovers, he decides to come out to his wife and live the way he wants to, as an openly gay man. However, his illegal, conniving ways catch up with him and he is thrown in jail. While incarcerated, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and falls in love.

While it may sound like your typical romance where two lovebirds meet under the unlikeliest of circumstances, it’s not and that’s why the marketing department has had such trouble with it. Its demographic isn’t clear. Its intended audience clearly isn’t conservatives, but to be fair, they aren’t the only ones that can feel uncomfortable with the subject matter. Its homosexual nature can irk even the most liberal of viewers. Older folks, set in their old ways, may find this morally wrong, while younger audiences are too immature to watch a movie about two people of the same sex falling in love. Is I Love You Phillip Morris for anybody?

I think so. It’s for the people who can look past the explicit male on male sex scenes and see the surprisingly sweet love story surrounding them. In that regard, I guess I’m the target audience. The lengths Steven goes to see Phillip, sometimes even putting his life in real danger, is something anybody who believes in love (of all kinds) can relate to.

Still, I Love You Phillip Morris is a bit uneven. It suffers from subplots that give a flimsy reason for the duo to have some money in a context that makes them feel extraneous to the main story and the latter half stumbles by giving us too much rather than keeping it simple. In what is essentially an overlong montage, Steven breaks out of multiple jails, which is meant to show how cunning he can be (and how strong his love is), but previous plot points (like when he fakes his way into a position as the CFO at a major company) have already done enough to get that point across.

With all this talk of love, I’d almost forgotten to mention this is a comedy more than anything else and a funny one at that. The laughs are sporadic, but the ones that work are hilarious. The climax of the movie at first feels out of place due to what seems like melodramatics, but when the incredible twist comes, you’ll feel like a fool for having jumped to that conclusion. This final satisfying cinematic sucker punch sends the film out with a bang. It’s clever, funny and, most of all, it makes sense. The habitually drab nature of Hollywood means we end up watching the same old song and dance over and over again. I Love You Phillip Morris breaks that trend.

I Love You Phillip Morris receives 3.5/5