Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: Bad Words

Release date: March 14, 2014 (limited)
Running time: 89 minutes
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall
Who to see it with: Someone who can appreciate funny, un-politically correct antiheroes


Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words, the story of a foul-mouthed 40-year-old named Guy Trilby (played by Bateman) who uses a loophole to enter a children’s spelling bee. The farfetched premise is occasionally used to poke fun at the personalities of the bee contestants and their overzealous parents, but mostly serves as an excuse to place Guy in an absurd situation. Bateman gets to play against his usual straight gut type like he did in body-switching comedy The Change-Up. Kathryn Hahn’s initially mild-mannered reporter aids Guy while covering his story. At first, she seems like Guy’s “straight man”, but becomes funnier as she reveals her odd quirks.

The dark comedy is lightened by Guy’s relationship with fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a friendly ten-year-old who won’t leave Guy alone his signs of disinterest. Their bond provides some of the film’s funniest moments when Guy’s bad behavior rubs off on him. The kid seems like he may be included to humanize Guy—he’s an irredeemable jerk until he gives him a chance—but their interactions don’t feel forced. Guy’s attitude makes him a reliable source of mean, dirty jokes, but the character may be better than the movie. His secret background and late-movie decisions don’t make the greatest story nor make him as sympathetic as seemingly intended. Bad Words could have done more with its absurd premise, but is a funny showcase for an against-type Jason Bateman.

Rent it.

What to Watch This Weekend: March 21, 2014

We recommend renting this film, but if you really want to see something in theaters, you will probably enjoy Bad WordsIt could have done more with its absurd premise, but it is a funny showcase for an against-type Jason Bateman.

On DVD: Frozen
Disney's Academy Award-winning film is now available to rent. It won best animated feature and best song. It's a good movie with beautiful animation and great music. It's not perfect, but it's a fun movie for the whole family with plenty of cool moments.

20 Feet from Stardom is an interesting look at the many trials and occasional triumphs experienced by performers who receive far too little recognition. It's a great documentary and shouldn't be missed now that it's available for streaming.

Netflix Link

Mud features a strong performance by Matthew McConaughey as the title character who meets two boys in the back woods of a southern town. The film offers an engaging Southern drama that manages to keep an interesting story along some beautiful Southern landscapes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Release date: March 21, 2014
Running time: 112 minutes
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey 
Who to see it with: Someone who absolutely loves the Muppets.


Muppets Most Wanted follows the Muppets after wrapping on their last movie, as they hope to capitalize on their newly renewed fame and embark on a world tour. This trip takes them to Germany, Spain, England, and Russia to perform for their world fans. Unfortunately, they are duped by their tour manager (Gervais) who is not looking out for the Muppets best interest. On top of this, a dangerous frog, who looks very similar to Kermit, has escaped from a Russian prison and is going to to cause the Muppets even more trouble. The film brings back most of your favorite Muppets and includes a new character just introduced in the last movie. The puppeteers animating the Muppets are great and the characters move and emote with an amazing amount of life. Additionally, all the voices sound authentic to the originals and it's easy to get drawn into these performances. 

As you would expect from a movie about a world tour, the Muppets visit a variety of locales and interact with many different individuals. Although this could have been a fun lesson about various world place, it ends up being the same event with a different backdrop without teaching anything about that location. The story itself just feels like an excuse to go to various cities, so why not teach kids about those locations while it's there? Additionally, there are some unnecessary European comments that play to various stereotypes about what some Americans think about European work ethic. It's possibly harmless, but in a kids movie I expect to not have these types of stereotypes to imprint on young minds. Additionally, the film as a whole, and the Muppets dialog particularly, aren't terribly funny. The best thing about the film, however, are the various celebrity cameos. They come on stage for a short time and play a funny character or say a line or two. Overall, maybe I'm being too critical, but Muppets Most Wanted felt like it could have been an interesting world tour movie teaching kids about various locales, but ended up feeling like a rushed sequel to the last film.

Rent it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What to Watch This Weekend: March 14, 2014

Need for Speed might be the first good video game movie. It's a long film with an involved (and ridiculous plot) but that's balanced by a fun cast of characters, great racing, and some of the sexiest cars you'll ever see.  

I think most people liked Inside Llewyn Davis more than I did. The Coen brother's movie about a young and talented folk singer trying to navigate the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. Oscar Isaac gave a great performance and the movie has an interesting cast of characters, but I ultimately thought it was too slow. 

Turbo isn't a great movie, but it's a fun family film with a clever cast of characters and some beautiful visuals. And it has some good lessons for kids to learn, like never giving up on your dreams. 

Netflix Link

Pi tells the story of a paranoid mathematician who is searching for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. I haven't seen it in years but loved it when it came out. There's really no better way to celebrate Pi day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Need for Speed

Release date: March 14, 2014
Running time: 130 minutes
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Rami Malek
Who to see it with: Someone who loves the Fast and Furious movies, or fast cars, or video games.


Those looking for a Fast & Furious fix while Universal reworks the seventh movie should check out Need for Speed. Based on the EA video game franchise, Need for Speed follows Tobey, a talented racer who never got a chance to race in the big leagues. Tobey enters an underground, winner-takes-all street race to get revenge for a past wrong (which is set up earlier in the film). However, in order to participate, Tobey must both acquire a fast car and get to the race, a journey all it's own. 

Need for Speed really seems like a movie based on the game, with a predictable story, bad writing, transparent and stereotypical characters, over-the-top action, and crazy events. But, since it is based on a video game, this all seems natural. The story itself is more involved than I expected it to be. Need for Speed doesn't live life a quarter mile at a time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The movie does a lot of setup to introduce the main characters and their predicament, so it's understandable that this translates into a long film. It does seem like some of the back story and certain scenes in the middle aren't necessary, but the movie didn't seem overly long and I enjoyed having a story with some depth in a video game film. Plus, Tobey's main crew are a fun group of characters; they're not as tight as the group in Fast and Furious movies, but they all have great roles to play and it was nice to see characters in a support role for the main racer. 

The film also has little touches here and there that evoke the source material: certain camera angles from within the car cockpit, funny lines that fans of the series will understand, some of the in-movie graphics, and the use of race check marks. The racing itself is very well done with crazy speed and exciting moments. It feels like there aren't as many set pieces as in Fast 6, but maybe that's because that movie bordered on the ridiculous. And like the video game, Need for Speed has some very sexy cars. One of the races in particular is a wet dream of amazing automobiles, something that Fast and Furious--with a more tuner mentality--doesn't have. In the end, Need for Speed might be the first good video game movie. It has a fun cast of characters, great racing, and some of the sexiest cars you'll ever see. 

See it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What to Watch This Weekend: March 7, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a perfect example of Hollywood translating a beloved old property into a modern, and enjoyable movie. The animation is great and the story has enough fun jokes that both young and old will enjoy.

12 Years a Slave just won best picture at the Oscars and rightfully so. The movie is a masterpiece, a brutal recreation of one of the darkest periods in American history. It is something that should be seen by everyone and now you can see it in the comfort of your home.

The toast of New York City society after penning "Breakfast at Tiffany's," flamboyant writer Truman Capote finds himself in a dance with the devil while researching the Clutter family murders for his masterwork, "In Cold Blood." Phillip Seymour Hoffman took home the academy award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Capote, and the film has a 90% rotten tomatoes rating.

Netflix Link

An early Ryan Gosling film, United States of Leland has a low critics score but a high viewer score. I haven't seen it for years but I remembered really liking it when I saw it then. It follows a teenage boy dealing with the consequences of a horrible situation as the adults around him try to piece together and understand what led to this. 

Review: Enemy

Release date: February 6, 2014
Running time: 90 minutes
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Who to see it with: Someone who really wants a confusing movie to see.


Enemy is a new psychological thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal. The story explores a man who discovers he has a doppelganger with an entirely separate, but similar life to his own. Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college history professor, and Anthony, an unsuccessful actor. Their two lives cross randomly and their different personalities begin to contrast as they explore, interact, and slowly invade each other's lives.

The film doesn't reveal much in terms of plot, with random scene flashes here and there and odd metaphors that stick throughout the film. The flashes are strange and not really explained. I'm perfectly fine with a movie forcing the viewer to work to uncover the plot, but in here the film just left threads hanging without any explanation or exploration. For example, there is a crush film thread that's not fully developed but schizophrenically shows up at various parts in the film. The movie itself plods along without much happening. Many scenes are slow, the characters don't develop quickly (or ever), and the plot drags and feels drawn out. I checked my watch after about an hour into the film, which is never a good sign. Gyllenhaal does a great job as both leads and his acting really is phenomenal, but that's about the only positive in this film. The characters are interesting, especially the Adam / Anthony duality, but their personalities have unbelievable reactions to certain scenes and events. I think this was meant to show that they are foils of each other, but often times it just made the scenes odd and unrealistic. In the end, Enemy could have been an interesting exploration and psychological thriller, but it just ends up feeling like an odd dream. 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Release date: March 7, 2014
Running time: 92 minutes
Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney
Who to see it with: Someone with nostalgia for the cartoon and doesn't care about the most accurate history.


In Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the cartoon made popular by the Rocky and Bullwinkle show gets a feature-length film. Peabody, a supremely brilliant and talented dog adopts Sherman and teaches him about history by going back in time. Peabody, as the overconfident, overprotective parent, feels the need to take care of Sherman completely, which translates well with what occurs in the cartoon. In the cartoon, Peabody lectures Sherman and holds his hand throughout their adventures; however, in the movie, he must learn to let Sherman be more independent if he's going to grow up.

The animation is beautiful and Dreamworks has done a great job translating the original, hand-drawn cartoon (and much of the original story) into a computer generated movie. They've also made the time machine itself, and those sequences utilizing it, much more impressive than what occurred in the cartoon. Much of the film takes place in the past. Although history buffs might not enjoy that aspect of the film, I thought that it provided fun glimpses of history. Additionally, these short takes on historical events might encourage some of the kids (and adults) watching it to do their own research and learn about the past. These sections are not the most accurate depictions, and plenty of them are highly stereotypical, but for a cartoon I thought it did a pretty good job of entertaining while introducing these historical time periods. The place where the movie shined were the jokes. There was plenty of humor for both young and old to enjoy, and plenty of jokes that kids aren't going to get but will have adults laughing out loud. The best animated movies can be enjoyed by all moviegoers and this is no exception. Additionally, although the film touches on some good lessons for kids to learn, such as bullying and family. I wasn't expecting great things out of this film, and if I could I would go back to tell myself to give the movie more credit. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a perfect example of Hollywood translating a beloved old property into a modern, and enjoyable movie.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

Release date: March 7, 2014
Running time: 102 minutes
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey
Who to see it with: Someone who really really wants to see abs and violence.


300: Rise of an Empire tells a parallel story to the one from the original movie. In the new film, Themistokles (Stapleton) leads a group of Athenian soldiers against the Persian navy and their sadistic, deadly, and beautiful commander Artemisia (Green). The Athenians are horribly outnumbered by the massive Persian forces, but like the warriors in 300, the Greeks fight willingly to protect Greece from the invading force. Writer Zack Snyder returns to pen the screenplay, but 300: Rise of an Empire has a new director in Noam Murro. The film takes a lot of cues from the original movie and tries to bring the look and feel of that hit to this new story including: frequent use of slow motion to emphasize certain violent parts or build tension, the soldiers not wearing enough actual armor, and fight scenes that are insanely violent. 

Some of the callbacks to the original, however, don't completely work for this new story. First, there is a strange absence of King Leonidas (presumably because they couldn't get Gerard Butler to sign on) so there are only passing references to him. Shots from the first movie are reused and every time someone asks to talk to him, "he's away on a mission" or "he's talking with the counsel." It feels awkward to have someone that iconic not show up and Butler's absence hits all the more because Stapleton just isn't as charismatic or inspiring as King Leonidas. He does an admirable job, but he doesn't have the same voice or inherent charisma to fill the role of commander. Other characters from the first film do show up including Lena Heady as Sparta's Queen, David Wenham as Dilios, Rodrigo Santoro as S&M King Xerxes. They're a nice touch but their relatively minor roles make the movie feel like it's trying to recapture the first film without having as good of a story. The use of slow motion was a nice touch, but at times it made the movie drag and felt like it was being used to unnaturally extend the run time. This is also felt when a scene is unnecessarily reused thirty minutes after we saw it first. In the end, the film just feels like either a quick cash grab to feed off some good will left from the first film, or a stepping stone to the real 300 sequel. Either way, it's something that should be seen by fans of first one, just maybe after it's available for rental. 

Rent it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Watch or Pass Oscars Poll

Today is the big day that we're all waiting for.  Who will win the Oscars?  We've got a poll up so you can get your picks in if you'd like.  

My picks are:

Best Picture - 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor - Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress - Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress - Lupita Nyong'o
Best Animated Feature - Frozen (though Wind Rises should probably win)

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