“Dinner for Schmucks” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

To use modern text-ology, “Dinner for Schmucks” is a WTF movie.  I can’t count the number of times I thought “WTF” while watching it.  It is as if the writers and director just decided to go for every possible gag, no matter how bizarre.  And I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a few times…  But not enough.

High powered businessmen gather regularly for a special dinner where they are required to bring an extraordinary guest.  To clarify — they have to bring an idiot for them all to make fun of and laugh at.  Paul Rudd plays an ambitious young exec who knows it is a morally shady thing to do, but feels obligated to join in.  He has an odd encounter with Steve Carell, who happens to be a perfect candidate for the upcoming dinner.  You see, he collects dead mice and arranges them in scenery as a form of art.  He also has his fair share of other oddball behavior.

The movie has successful aspects.  I am thinking primarily of the brilliant Jermaine Clement (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”) as the crazy artistic “genius” who pops up from time to time.  Of course I enjoyed Carell, who is just one of those actors whose face can cause a giggle without a single muscle twitch.  And there are some scenes that work so well that a belly laugh is in order.

But on the whole, “Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t quite the riot you would expect.  There are too many moments where one gets the impression that everyone is trying too hard.  Paul Rudd is also a little tiresome playing the same character he always plays — himself.  And once again… Paul Rudd as Paul Rudd!  AHAHAHAHA… UGH.  I got bored with the film about half way through and it never regained my interest as it played its way to a paint-by-numbers conclusion.  Next!

TWO AND A HALF STARS Dinner for Schmucks Review

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“I’m Still Here” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I really regret not seeing this film before it was revealed as a hoax.  I was one who believed in the meltdown.  I was 90% sure that Joaquin Phoenix was gone for good — forever lost to a bizarre schizophrenic episode.  Is it really that hard to believe that a Hollywood star could go through something like that?  I would have enjoyed seeing the film under that illusion.  Perhaps the effect would have been different.

Anyway — we all know the truth now.  That truth shifts “I’m Still Here” from documentary to a standard fiction film.  It shifts my focus from the real-life subject of the lens (Phoenix) to the skill of the storytelling and the performances.  It must be judged in a very different way.

I have to say that I think the film suffers from the truth.  The emotional impact is infinitely lessened by it.  There is no actor to care about.  There is no lost soul.  No lost career.  No true loss of any kind.  It is all farce.  All that leaves the film slightly hollow… merely an experiment in long term fraud.

That being said… I find it amazing how Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck pull this year-long stunt off.  It is, not only, an exercise in filmmaking but in media manipulation.  The performance is extraordinary — solidifying Phoenix as one of the premium talents in the industry.  The film is not particularly skillful in any way.  Affleck’s involvement is more impressive organizationally and ideologically than in his directorial capacity.

I have to say that I think the film would be far more impressive had it been truthful.  The subject matter would have carried the weight of the project.  As it stands, that emotional weight is absent and the skill of the film is not sufficient enough to matter that much.  “I’m Still Here” is only a curiosity and a mildly interesting exercise in mass deception.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Im Still Here Review

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“Date Night” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“Date Night” is a frantic romantic comedy that features a couple who are already married.  There is no meet-cute.  There is no awkward stumbling through the early stages of the relationship.  There is no predictable happily-ever-after ending.  It is a refreshing change.  Steve Carell and Tina Fey fit well together. They are both gifted comedic actors that turn a ludicrous plot into an entertaining ride.

A case of mistaken identity on their traditional “Date Night” leads to an action packed evening of espionage, heists and car chases.  The highly implausible sequence of events leads to consistently amusing consequences — making this one of the better comedies of 2010.

There is not too much to say about a film as silly as this one.  It is a safe bet for a DVD rental.  Almost everyone will like it to some degree.

THREE STARS Date Night Review

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“A Call Girl” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“A Call Girl” (aka “Slovenka” or “Slovenian Girl”) is a difficult film to watch.  It is a cold eastern-European story of a hardened woman who turns tricks to support a lifestyle that would usually be beyond her means.  She goes to school.  She is buying her own apartment.  It isn’t the ideal life, but it gives her a sense of independence and progress.  Unfortunately, her choices are taking their toll.  She is clearly detached from real emotions… perhaps numb as a method of self-preservation.  She is trading happiness for security.

Unfortunately, due to a hotel rendezvous with a politician, who keels over and dies before they can do business, she makes the national headlines as a mystery call-girl.  The country is searching for her with a vague description.  Even worse, the people who find her first are not at all interested in justice.  They are interested in blackmailing her unless she agrees to “protection” — the polite word for pimping.

The story also involves her strained relationships with family, friends and ex-boyfriends.  Nothing in this girl’s life is easy.  It is an ultimately sad movie about the harsh realities of life without money in the eastern block.  The central performance is magnificent.  Nina Ivanisin gives us a truly wonderful effort here.  I believed every gesture… every glance.  She is the reason a viewer can make it through the grim story.  She makes us care.

THREE STARS A Call Girl Review

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“Machete” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Listen, “Machete” is a stupid movie.  Even Robert Rodriguez would have to admit that.  Even its biggest fan would begrudgingly concede that the story is dumber than a bag of hammers.  This film is simply a celebration of exploitation flicks.  Instead of blacksploitation, we get Mexsploitation.  “Machete” is wall to wall with tits and knives and blood and stunts and one-liners.  It is ridiculous and proud.

To try explaining the plot is like trying to explain the tune of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  What’s the point?  You just have to experience it for yourself.  Danny Trejo cuts people up and bangs hotties like Jessica Alba, Electra Avellan, Lindsay Lohan and Michelle Rodriguez.  That is all you need to know.  The only question when evaluating this film is whether or not you enjoyed all the insanity on a visceral level or not.

I am guilty of enjoying the film to some degree.  I laughed at the movie and I laughed at myself for watching the movie.  I am not above the cheap thrills of gratuitous nudity.  I can appreciate the artistic merit of a machete slicing massacre from time to time.  If the film had been nothing but cheap thrills, I may have liked it a little more.  However, it actually has the “cohones” to try and say something meaningful about the state of affairs in the United States today — about border control and slave labor.  The film probably doesn’t earn the right to discuss matters like that, despite having legitimate points.

I enjoyed my time with “Machete”.  I doubt that I will ever want to watch it again.  When it surfaces on cable TV, I might just peek up for the naughty bits.  Agh, who am I kidding… I will be recording the naughty bits and playing them on a loop.   Mmm…  Lindsay Lohan’s naughty bits.

THREE STARS Machete Review

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“She’s Out of My League” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

It is tempting to hate this film because it is so supremely formulaic and predictable.  On another day, in another mood, I may just have tuned out after the 20-minute mark and rode out the rest of the plot while planning my scathing review.  Yet somehow, I was generous enough to give this movie a lot of rope.

It is a typical Hollywood contrivance — the ugly duckling and the beautiful swan.  In this movie, Kirk is a below-average-Joe who somehow manages to swing the interest of a stunning blonde named Molly.  Unfortunately, his massive insecurities and his circle of family and friends, who are bewildered at his good fortune, all seem to get in the way and cause him nothing but trouble.

As a “rom-com”, I would claim that the romance is ridiculous and unbelievable in every possible way, but the comedy is quick and witty and observant.  Therefore, it is a semi-successful film.  What I have to determine is if the good comedy outweighs the laughable relationship — and it does.  I laughed considerably throughout.  I chose to see this film as utter silliness — ignoring the mild attempts at sincerity and romance.

Alice Eve is one of the most resplendent women alive today.  Her presence is enough to make any hot-blooded male want to watch.  The notion that she would fall for the loser in the movie is ludicrous in every way.  Despite that though, the laughs, predominantly generated by the secondary characters, come regularly enough to distract viewers from the other crap.

THREE STARS Shes Out of My League Review

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Is College Football a Sport or a Joke?

Is College Football a Sport or a Joke?

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  sports  |  No Comments

I love sports… playing them, watching them, talking about them.  There aren’t too many people who can compete with my sports or movie obsessions.

However, each of them has issues.  Cinema has a few throw-away genres that don’t carry as much emotional weight as others.  I am thinking primarily of horror, fantasy, animation etc.  Are they lesser genres?  Yes they are.  That’s not a bad thing.  It is simply a fact. They still have their place in the entertainment world.

Sport has a few silly examples too.  You might even make the argument that some of those examples aren’t even sports.  Synchronized swimming, x-games events, gymnastics, figure skating etc.  They may still be artistic and / or entertaining… but are they sports?  I will grant that they are athletic.  I will grant that they are astonishingly difficult to master.  I will grant that I have enjoyed watching them.  But are they sports?

The key relies on how participants win.  Do they win because they are the fastest?  Do they win because they score more points?  Do they win because they are measurably better than their opponents?  No.  They win because judges decide they like them better.  I call bullshit on that.

You can add College Football to that list of pseudo-sports.

It was always a joke… a quaint one.  A joke that we all forgave for decades.  It used to be the AP poll and the Coaches Poll.  They would wait until the day after New Year’s and each vote for a champion.  Sometimes they agreed.  Sometimes there would be two winners.  It was always ludicrous, but we went along with it for some reason.

However, over the last dozen years, the shocking BCS disaster has highlighted the legendary stupidity of the “sport”.  They have botched the national championship game in 10 of the last 12 years.  They have repeatedly rigged the rankings to preclude smaller (less profitable) teams from taking part.  They have made egregious errors in judgment for all of the bowl games that appear under their black cloud.  Everything about the process is a total and transparent joke.

I have heard the moronic argument that the voting process keeps people talking about college football.  Yeah, maybe in the days before mass media and internet.  But now, all anyone ever talks about is the embarrassing process and the injustice of it all.  There is no positivity being discussed.   I have also heard the notion that every game is a playoff game.  Double bullshit!  Tell that to teams like Marhsall, TCU, Utah and Boise St.  Since 1998, all of them have won every “playoff game” throughout a season and still not even had the chance to compete for a championship.  Imagine a sport where someone can say, “I was PERFECT” and they didn’t even get considered to play in the title game.

Imagine a sport where perfection isn’t good enough.  Imagine a sport where 10 of the last 12 title games were shams.  Imagine a sport where 8 of the last 12 winners could safely be considered controversial choices.  Imagine a sport where there is rampant corruption.  Imagine a sport that makes billions in revenue but doesn’t pay the participants.  Imagine a sport where winners feel tainted forever.  Imagine a sport that cheats the public out of great stories — Davids beating Goliaths.

That’s college football for ya!

It has officially lost its title as a sport.  It now gets placed in the same category as surfing or platform diving or American Idol.

It is less of a sport than darts, pool, chess, poker etc.  At least there is a definitive winner in those sports.

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Too Much ESPN?

Too Much ESPN?

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  sports, television  |  No Comments

I never thought I would say those words.

Is it just me or is the shock-jock, sports radio over-analysis becoming all too prevalent in the world?  It used to be confined to AM radio stations and an occasional piece buried late in the ESPN staple, “SportsCenter”. But now, it seems that ridiculous arguments, vast overstatements, snap reactions, absurd speculation and repetitive lame banter blasts my eardrums morning, noon and night.  ESPN has turned the conversations I used to have with my buddies into redundant chatter.

I say ESPN, only because it is the bread and butter of sports television.  Sure, there are other channels that are very much guilty of the same bullshit — but ESPN is the one I always have looked forward to watching.

Like I said… It used to be confined to bit segments as time filler on “SportsCenter”.  There was also a favorite show of mine that aired every Sunday morning called “The Sports Reporters”. After that, “Pardon the Interruption” became a massive hit for the station.  I was an avid viewer and loved the initial interaction between Kornheiser and Wilbon.

Heck, even the first few months of “Around the Horn” was must see TV — back when Max Kellerman was the host.

Since then, ESPN has flooded the airwaves with supposed experts who are prone to spewing wild statements all over the place in an attempt to be the loudest and most obnoxious analyst on TV

I can’t go five seconds without seeing the insane ramblings of Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith.  Have either one of them ever been correct about anything ever in the history of sports???  They are simply contrarians with loud voices.

If we don’t get served assholes like that, we are treated to morons like Woody Paige and Bill Plaschke — neither of which can deliver a multi-syllabic sentence without stumbling repeatedly.

ESPN is slowly devolving into a cesspool of “opinions” rather than a provider of information.  It is desperately trying to be entertaining rather than factual.  It is becoming the Fox News of sports broadcasting.

Listen — I still have affection for ESPN and want it to revert back to what it was a few years ago… when I couldn’t get enough.  All I feel now is a sense of “bullshit fatigue”.

Dial it down a notch ESPN — before your audience grows out of you and your childish squabbling.  Try to be a station for adults… not teenagers.  Get rid of the “controversy seekers” and start giving us “quality analysis”.

The only great show on ESPN now is E:60 — which is essentially a rip off of the fantastic HBO series, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”.

So ESPN, we would like to see more of the following…

Ron Jaworski, Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Bob Ryan, Mitch Albom, John Saunders… etc.  These guys haven’t yet felt the urge to jump in the muck

Stop feeding us the Bill O’Reilly impersonators!!!

Stop feeding us big name ex-athletes like Keyshawn Johnson — a terrible speaker and a vile human being!!!

Stop expecting us to listen to the same crappy arguments 25 times a day!!!

Stop appealing to the lowest common denominators!!!

Raise the bar of your profession… Set the standard.

Make ESPN the “real leader in sports television”.

AND THAT’S WHAT I’M BURNING ON!!!

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“Let the Right One In” Review

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

As gentle and delicate a film as you are likely to see in 2008! “Let the Right One In” takes the vampire genre to an alternate cinematic dimension — one where tender love and friendship supersedes the lust for blood.

A lonely, feeble and shy young boy is bullied at school and ignored at home.  He is desperate for companionship and fantasizes about revenge on his tormentors.

Oskar often plays alone in the snowy yard in front of his apartment building.  One night, while practicing his revenge on a small tree, Oskar meets Eli — a strange and curious soul who is fascinated by Oskar Rubik’s Cube.  Eli completes the puzzle by morning.

We learn, before Oskar does, that Eli is a vampire who feeds off of the occasional local resident.  However, they strike up a nocturnal friendship that soon blossoms into an agreement of “going steady”.

The film tracks this relationship as Oskar begins to stand up to his school bullies and Eli struggles to sustain the violent feeding habits.  We watch as both children help each other with their respective problems.

I cannot go into too many details without giving away key story elements.  There are some things that are best learned throughout the course of watching this great Swedish film.  However, I will urge you to play close attention to every aspect of Eli’s character — it is very easy to miss a important part.

“Let the Right One In” is a triumph of mood, style and tone.  I am not sure that I have ever seen a film that pays more attention to the tiniest sounds.  This is a very quiet film with gentle souls offering gentle lines of dialogue.  You can almost hear the snow flakes hit the ground in some scenes.

It is a lovely visual too — the entire film is a canvas for Gothic beauty.  Even the few bloody scenes are handled with an eye for unique aesthetics.  It is one of the finest examples of cinematography in 2008.

Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are both first time actors who deliver two of the finest child performances I have ever seen.  A lot of credit must go to the director for casting and crafting such profound ability.  Their faces will be indelibly etched in your mind after having seen them here.  Special note to Leandersson, who should be considered for a Best Supporting nod at next year’s Oscars.

There are moments of heartbreak and moments of cheer in this little gem.  I cherish this on-screen friendship and love up there with any movie relationship from this decade.  Despite their vast differences, Oskar and Eli cure each other’s loneliness in this bleak world… and they escape from it with one of the most poignant and haunting final scenes since the secret whisper at the end of “Lost in Translation”.

-.- .. … …

K  I  S  S

FOUR STARS Let the Right One In Review

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“The Wrestler” Review

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

One of the supreme performances of the decade!

Darren Aronofsky directs a simple story of a broken man, desperate for past glory and some semblance of contact with his estranged daughter.  Randy “The Ram” Robinson is an aging professional wrestler who has royally messed up his life in virtually every imaginable way.  This film chronicles the acceptance of his fate and the small gestures he makes in order to find the slightest redemption.

Mickey Rourke acts in “The Wrestler” — a powerful independent film from one of the very best young directors in the world today.  To be honest, “acts” isn’t enough to describe Rourke’s effort here.  He “is” this man… literally.

There are very few performances in a decade where one would feel that the actor is irreplaceable.  This is one of those roles.  I cannot imagine another man playing this part.  Rumor has it that Aronofsky fought hard for Rourke to get this part — a tough task when no studio would front the cash with his name attached.  However, the fight was worthwhile.  This film triumphs because of it.

“The Wrestler” is one of the 10 best films of 2008.  Rourke’s performance is one of the most memorable you will ever witness.  I urge you to seek this gem out at your nearest art-house movie theatre before it gets counted out.

FOUR STARS The Wrestler Review

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