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Entries in Owen Wilson (5)

Friday
Oct142011

The Big Year

In the last few months, moviegoers have been bombarded with sports stories. Since August, we’ve watched Seven Days in Utopia, a spiritual golf movie, Moneyball, an underdog story about a ragtag group of baseball players, Warrior, a mixed martial arts film about family, Real Steel, the robot form of Warrior, and Senna, the terrific documentary about the life and death of the greatest Formula One racecar driver to ever get behind a wheel. Now film fans have the chance to watch three men compete in the exciting world of…bird watching?

The Big Year follows Brad (Jack Black), Kenny (Owen Wilson) and Stu (Steve Martin) as they compete in something called “The Big Year” (natch), a competition to see who can spot the greatest number of species of birds in one calendar year. It’s as exciting as it sounds. There’s more to it than that, though, like Kenny’s unhappy wife who just wants him to stay home and Brad’s disapproving father who urges him to give up his silly hobby and work, but they are merely forced drama seeking profundity. They, of course, don’t reach it and instead only serve to make an already dumb movie dumber.

But its biggest pratfall isn’t from its failed drama. Nobody goes to see a movie with Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin to cry. The Big Year instead suffers from comedic emptiness. One can only assume the script read better than it plays because this is as excruciatingly unfunny a comedy as has come out all year, perhaps even in the last several. The crowd at my screening was eerily silent, which isn’t always an indication of the film’s quality, but it sure was this time. When you can’t even make the audience who were excited enough to show up to a pre-screening laugh, you’ve got problems.

The three talented stars give it their all, but it’s certainly not enough. All three are funniest at their wildest, but are subdued by a tame PG rating. Black, in particular, is never allowed to let loose. His crazy antics that have worked so well in things like School of Rock and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (and even Gulliver’s Travels to a degree—he made that movie tolerable) are nowhere to be seen. The film has a grand total of one earned laugh.

To be fair, this is about as interesting a movie about bird watching as I can possibly imagine, but the subject holds interest to only a select few people. If every bird watching enthusiast in the world showed up to watch it, my guess is the box office intake would still be chump change compared to the usual. The Big Year has the occasional moment of beauty, like a wonderful shot of two eagles free-falling with their talons locked in embrace during a mating ritual, but they only make the rest of the movie look that much worse. Even at just over an hour and a half, this movie is sluggish, overlong and tedious. It’s inoffensive, but even family friendly material can be unwatchable.

The Big Year receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jun242011

Cars 2

Throughout the years, Pixar has come to be the most reliable production studio in Hollywood. Their movies have been so good, the fact that they’re animated has meant little. Animated or otherwise, Pixar films rank among the top movies of the last 16 years (going all the way back to 1995’s Toy Story). They have had a perfect track record, eleven for eleven (or more if you include their wonderful short films), but it seems that record is now tainted. I never thought I’d see the day, but it has come. Pixar has made a bad movie and its name is Cars 2.

The film takes place a few years after Cars. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has just returned to Radiator Springs after winning his 4th Piston Cup. His best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), is ecstatic that he’s home and has big plans for his buddy. However, they soon hear of the first ever World Grand Prix, a race that is going to be done exclusively with Allinol, an alternative fuel source being promoted by the World Grand Prix founder, Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), and head off to compete in that instead. Little do they know, an evil organization of clunkers, fearful of becoming obsolete, is out to destroy the cars during the race in an attempt to delegitimize Allinol. In a series of mix-ups, Mater finds himself participating in a mission of international espionage with secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are trying to find and stop the evil mastermind behind the sabotage before it’s too late.

Except for perhaps A Bug’s Life, the original Cars is Pixar’s worst film because it is largely for children. The thematic complexity of many of their other films was all but missing. Nevertheless, it was still a good movie with a heartfelt, if overdone, message about figuring out what’s really important and finding your bliss. In that film, Lightning grew as a character and learned that there was more to life than winning races and awards. Cars 2 has nothing like that. The deepest it goes is “be nice to your friends,” which may be great for the little ones in the audience, but won’t do much for anyone who has already hit puberty. In some ways, it’s commendable to see Pixar put out a wholesome, inoffensive film solely for children—there aren’t too many of those these days—but it’s also extremely disappointing because they’re capable of so much more. In the last few years, we’ve gazed in awe at the wonders that were Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar’s three most mature films to date. To see them take such a puerile leap backwards is disheartening to say the least.

Even with those problems in consideration, Cars 2 has a lazy, poorly developed story and an out-of-place eco-friendly message. Its call for a renewable fuel resource, however admirable it may be, will undoubtedly go over children’s heads and come off as preachy and unnecessary to the adults. Had the story been fleshed out more than what is presented, perhaps the message could have worked, but it’s not. Essentially, Cars 2 is a James Bond film with automobiles, but the problem is simply putting cars into a Bond-like scenario is not enough. Something must be done with it to make it memorable, but there’s no parody of action movie clichés (something that the excellent Kung Fu Panda 2 nailed several times), no homage to Bond elements (aside from a few character names like the aforementioned Holly Shiftwell) and no unique twist to the already worn down spy story.

As with the first film, Larry the Cable Guy is the best part of Cars 2. He puts real effort into his performance as opposed to Owen Wilson who sounds like he’s just taken a heavy dose of Nyquil and is delivering his lines only minutes before falling asleep. However, a little goes a long way and, like Ken Jeong in The Hangover Part II, his expanded part grows a bit wearisome. In this installment, Mater is the central character and his Southern ignorance becomes less and less charming as time goes on.

As should be evident by now, even the film’s positives are hampered by their own distinct negatives. The 3D, for instance, isn’t as obtrusive as other movies thanks to Cars 2’s bright and colorful nature, but it’s still unnecessary and produces more noticeable double vision than most other films in recent memory. Simply put, Pixar dropped the ball on this one. Cars 2 is hands down and by a wide margin the worst, most inaccessible Pixar film to date. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s also the first one that is not worth seeing.

Cars 2 receives 1.5/5

Friday
Feb252011

Hall Pass

I bet there are plenty of guys that would love to get a week off from marriage and have the freedom to do whatever (and whomever) they want. But if it were to happen, most men wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. They may attempt to pick up girls, probably to no avail. Some may even realize they’re happier without their wives holding them down. Most men, however, would most likely miss their wives and wish to be back together with them. One thing’s for sure—whatever they did would have little similarities to the events in Hall Pass. The latest comedy from the Farrelly Brothers takes this premise and runs with it, slowly becoming more and more ridiculous as it goes on, presenting a tonally uneven film that manages to string out only a small number of good laughs.

Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are two middle aged men who have been married for many years to their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), respectively. After years of ogling other women, however, Maggie and Grace become fed up and give the guys a “hall pass,” a week off from marriage to do whatever they want. So they leave for the week, hoping this time away will make them appreciate what they have. What they don’t expect, however, is for the guys to take the opportunity to try and hook up with other women, but that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis are perfectly cast in Hall Pass. They look the part (not ugly, but not particularly attractive either), they dress the part (walking around with their shirts tucked in and a simple parted hairdo) and they have a middle aged verbal swagger. They boast to each other that if it weren’t for their wives, they could be sleeping with every girl they run into. Their egos make them think they’re God’s gift to women. The problem is that while they talk a big game, they lack the actual skills to back that talk up.

And when they finally get that coveted hall pass from their wives, it shows. They stumble through their words as they talk to women, they use cheesy pick up lines that any respectable lady would scoff at and their ideal hook up spot is Applebee’s. Needless to say, all of their initial attempts to pick up somebody fail. But they remain optimistic nonetheless. They just know they'll get someone tomorrow. In these early moments, Hall Pass deftly explores the male mentality, which is full of macho talk and a certain cockiness that leads them to believe that, if given the chance, any girl would fall for them and be willing to hop in the sack.

Unfortunately, these hints at intelligent deliberation become overshadowed by a raunchy screenplay full of male nudity and bodily secretions. However, its over-the-topness in itself is not the problem. It’s the mixture of that outrageousness with the quiet events prior. The first 30 minutes are like a PG-13 movie, with little swearing or overt sexuality, which makes its sudden explosion into childishness seem all the more abrupt. Even worse, the last few minutes are full of cutesy speeches and redemptive confessions. Some loose ends are even purposely skipped over.

It’s possible to effectively combine heart with bawdiness, but the two elements need to be mixed together, not simply placed end to end. Transitions from the simple beginning to the crude middle and finally to the gooey ending come off as awkward and do not work. There are a handful of laughs to be had in Hall Pass, but not nearly enough and the clumsy emotional construction of the narrative is difficult to look past.

Hall Pass receives 2/5

Friday
Dec172010

How Do You Know

The requirements a romantic comedy must meet to be considered a quality product are flimsy. If there’s one genre of film that manages to suck more than any other, it’s that one, so when I see one I know I’m going to recommend, I inevitably wonder if it’s because it’s actually good or if I’m just lowering my standards in response to the cavalcade of garbage I’ve sat through. In the case of How Do You Know, I think it may be the latter. Despite having James L. Brooks, director of As Good as It Gets and the underappreciated Spanglish, at the helm, How Do You Know is a mixed bag of delight and dismay.

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, a gold medalist softball player who is about to find out she has been cut from the team. Her new boyfriend, Matty, played by Owen Wilson, is the star pitcher on the Washington Nationals, whose team seems to make spectacular plays in front packed stadiums (which solidifies that this is indeed a work of fiction). But when one of Lisa’s friends gives George, played by Paul Rudd, her number, she finds herself in a love triangle. Like herself, George needs some comfort because he has just been subpoenaed and is under investigation for securities fraud, though he honestly doesn’t know why. He has done nothing wrong. So Lisa finds herself torn and tries to juggle both relationships, though one is clearly working more than the other.

Also thrown in the mix is Jack Nicholson playing George’s father. The cast Brooks wrangled up for How Do You Know is impressive. All are great talents and provide different attributes to the film. Wilson is the funny one, Witherspoon is the sweet one, Nicholson is the mean and selfish one and Rudd is the all around pleasant one, making it easy to understand why Witherspoon could fall for him even though he may see jail time. They’re all wonderful in their roles; they’re just not given much to do.

The characters all seem to be walking a loop, especially Lisa who leaves Matty, then comes back, then leaves again, then thinks better of it and so on. The story aside from the immediate love story is inconsequential, including the entire subplot about the investigation where we find George’s father may have played a part in his downfall. How Do You Know runs nearly two hours long and I could have pointed out a good thirty minutes that could have been cut without losing the overall effect. One long winded scene, for instance, has George handling a video recorder while a minor character gives a sappy speech. But whoops! He forgot to turn it on, so the characters repetitively play through it all again so they can capture it on tape.

How Do You Know is one of the most uneven films of the year, boring you to sleep one moment and charming the pants off you the next. Undeterred by the cumbersome screenplay, the natural charisma of the talent shines through and by the end, I was surprised how much I had come to care about the characters, despite the irksome Lisa, who is essentially a walking proverb, always spouting off some stupid phrase. It’s not particularly funny and its contrivances almost pull it under, as is the case with most rom-coms, but the final moments of the film seal the deal. The last shot in particular, which will remain unspoiled, is utterly beautiful. Without it, my score may have dipped and How Do You Know would have missed a recommendation. That shot is the perfect ending to an imperfect film.

How Do You Know receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jun042010

Marmaduke

Live action talking animal movies are the lowest form of cinema. Watching one is like taking a really sharp, rusty needle and twisting it in your eye until it pops. They kill brain cells, dilute imaginations and corrupt our youth with their infantile humor, yet they're pumped out constantly. Compared to garbage like G-Force or the more recent Furry Vengeance, I suppose Marmaduke is okay, but that’s like saying breaking a finger is better than breaking a hand. It's painful either way.

Based on the long running, unfunny comic strip, the films follows Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he and his family move from Kansas to California. His owner Phil (Lee Pace) has landed a great job, which forces his family to move, much to their chagrin. While at a doggy park one day, Marmaduke learns what it will take to survive on the west coast thanks to a trio of dogs named Mazie (voiced by Emma Stone), Raisin (voiced by Steve Coogan) and Giuseppe (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who take him in as one of their own. He is told to stay away from Bosco (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), the alpha dog of the park, but he has an eye for his girlfriend Jezebel (voiced by Fergie) and sets out to prove himself as a leader.

There’s a scene in this movie, one of the earliest in fact, where Marmaduke is in bed with Phil and his wife. He is giving her the good news about his job and they start to romantically kiss. Marmaduke then passes gas, looks directly at the camera and says, “I know it’s juvenile, but it’s all I’ve got.” Never before has a movie so accurately described itself. It has nothing of note but a relentless barrage of jokes that only a child of single digit age could laugh at.

Those jokes not disgusting are simply eye rollers with visual gags that are about as funny as a dog on a surfboard. Oh wait, that’s actually in this movie and the result is as idiotic as you’d imagine. Phil’s new job tasks him with putting doggy product on retail shelves and his plan to promote it is to have a dog surf-off, pitting Marmaduke against Bosco in head to head wave shredding. The CGI that follows takes big old Duke and tosses him into the barrel of the wave where he overcomes his fear, busts through and flies sky high winning him first prize and putting Bosco in his place.

It’s hard to top something as idiotic as that, but this film’s idiocy knows no bounds. Once all the dogs stood up on their hind legs and started dancing on a pseudo Dance Dance Revolution arcade game, I was ready to dance my way out the door. Then when you tack on ridiculous canine phrases like "a new leash on life" and plays on words like "bone-illionaire," it becomes clear the filmmakers have zero ambition for their project.

The very few laughs this picture provides rest solely on Christopher Mintz-Plasse who actually sounds enthusiastic about being in such a lowbrow movie and at least fakes like he cares. He comes across well and, although his voice is easily recognizable, he saved the picture from being terrible.

Of course, being only relatively terrible is hardly a ringing endorsement. I suppose Marmaduke is harmless. It’s brainless and appeals to the lowest common denominator, but there’s nothing truly objectionable here and there will be those who like it. For them, I am happy. As for my experience with it, I was not.

Marmaduke receives 1.5/5