Archive for December, 2011

Winnie the Pooh (2011) Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall

Posted in W on December 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $30 million

Worldwide Gross: $33 million

When I first heard of this movie bombing I had a feeling of the general audience letting me down (as if anyone really owes me anything but anyway…).  Whenever a remake or reboot of an old franchise comes out like the Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmonks it is usually slammed as being a betrayal of the original source material and god awful marketing crap and blah blah blah.  Meanwhile you get a movie which stays about as faithful as you can to the original look and feel (while simultaneously being a very enjoyable story) and it is a failure at the box office.

But there were many things which let this movie down.  One was the extremely befuddling decision to release this in the summer movie months.  It is hard for any movie to compete against a blockbuster like Harry Potter or Captain America, while simultaneously competing with other kids movies like a Smurfs.  I mentioned earlier when this movie first came out that it would seem a better idea to release this closer to the beginning of the year.  The beginning of the year is a dead zone where most studios dump their crap like Atari dumping so many cartridges of ET.  But that would actually work in the favor of Pooh because there would be no competition for the same audience and parents would be desperate to take them to anything good.  I would certainly want to be opening next to Country Strong, The Dilemma, and The Green Hornet rather than Harry Potter, Captain America, and Smurfs.

Another thing which did hurt the movie was the running time.  Pooh itself is only about 56 minutes.  In theaters I think they had a 20 minute short but on my DVD they didn’t have it.  I know I always talk about how I would rather have an awesome short movie than a mediocre long one.  The problem is I’m not a parent.  I spoke with many friends who are parents and who really wanted to see a great Pooh movie but who didn’t want to go to the theater.  They want something that will occupy their children’s attention for more than an hour and it is especially bad with ticket prices.  Can you really justify spending money on tickets for the whole family, food, and beverages for something that is over relatively quick?  Maybe they should have done another short to pad out the run time even more.  But if there is a silver lining it is that I think this movie is much better suited to the DVD market than the theater market.  It is nothing to rent this from Blockbuster/Red Box/Netflix/Video on Demand/etc. compared to the money you spend at the theater.  It will definetly be more of a hit now.  Now with that being said, let me get on with the review.

Now I usually don’t go in for kids movies much nowadays but I found this rather charming.  You immediately get on my good side for not trying to be in 3D, for having more traditional animation, and not having it be an endless parade of pop culture references.  It’s simple, and I love that.  To me, the animation in this movie is much more beautiful than most faux Pixar movies are.  The characters are classic, and don’t need to be transported to modern times or put in an new setting.  You can see the care and effort put into this movie.  You have some new voice talent like Craig Fergugon for Owl that are really fun in the role.  Even some music by Zooey Daschenel add to the overall charm of the movie.

The story has the characters searching for Christopher Robin as he is missing.  He leaves a note saying he will be “back soon” but is misinterpreted as being taken by a Backsun.  The gang try to capture this Backsun while also trying to find Eeyore’s lost tail.  There isn’t much to the story but it perfectly allows all the characters to get involved in the action.  Tigger wants to fight it, Owl wants to be the leader, Eeyore is…indifferent, and Pooh is wondering if there is any honey in it for him.  Each character has their own moment to shine and the music is actually pretty good.

If you are a fan of Winnie the Pooh, then I think you will really enjoy this movie.  The voice talent is just as good and the material is clever enough to make you rediscover why they were so lovable in the first place.  Care and attention are brought to the producion with is nostalgic and charming.  And while the movie is about 56 minutes, to me it fits the amount of story they had and, as I mentioned before, is better suited to home rental than spending a ton of money at the theaters.  This is a kids movie so I can’t give a total recommendation to it.  But if you love the old Pooh cartoons or have kids then you should definetly check it out.

 

The Dilemma (2011) Ron Howard

Posted in D on December 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $70 million

Worldwide Gross: $69 million

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are long time friends/business partners.  They are on the verge of selling a new product to Dodge but Nick is under serious pressure to get it done by a tight deadline.  On top of all that, Ronny finds Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on Nick.  Ronny is faced with the titular dilemma: do you tell Nick and potentially lose the friendship, or keep it a secret?

The problem is this “dilemma“, isn’t so much of a dilemma.  In fact it is so simple the movie has to throw so many extra hurdles to make it a dilemma that the effort involved in making it a dilemma, is almost a comedy.  Oh, you would tell your best friend?  Well, what if telling him would ruin a big business deal?  You would?  Well, what if it would kill him?  What if his wife was some evil bitch who would blackmail you?  What if aliens came down and offered a night with Megan Fox if you didn’t tell him?  Okay, that last part didn’t happen but you get the idea.  The point is this movie is trying to sell you on a drama/comedy dilemma which is supposed to be relatable to most people but ends up being ridiculous to the level of aliens coming down to make a deal.

Then we get the characters artificially inflating the movie by acting like moronic jack holes.  There are the usual Three’s Company misunderstandings in wacky comedies, but here they turn it up to 11.  And all this STILL wouldn’t be that bad if the movie didn’t go all bipolar and be a dramatic comedy.  Yeah, in the same movie where we get dick jokes and people falling out of trees, we get Vince Vaughn crying and BS sentimentality.  The tone is too jarring, and sometimes the jokes don’t even make that much sense.  Take for example when Ronny is asking around for what he should do about the dilemma.  He calls his sister and presents it as a hypothetical “friend“ story to which she interprets as her husband cheating on her.  But it doesn’t make any sense because Ronny’s sister doesn’t know or have any interaction with Nick.  Why doesn’t he just present the situation as him finding Nick’s wife cheating on him?

Then there are plot threads that really go nowhere.  There are an easy twenty minutes that could be cut involving them selling this fake motor to Dodge and a bizarre supporting role by Queen Latifa.  Yeah, I know the looming business deal is part of why Ronny is hesitant to tell Nick but we don’t need this explained over twenty minutes.  This movie is 1 hour and 51 minutes and it feels like it is well over two hours.

The main characters aren’t all that compelling either.  Vince Vaughn’s character is a hot head lying A-hole who treats his fiance as an afterthought.  And even though the core of the movie is whether to tell Nick this bad news or not, the movie glosses over the fact Nick is also cheating on his wife.  HELLO!  I mean, it doesn’t validate the things Geneva does but it makes Nick just as big a prick.

Vince Vaughn tries to be charming but even he seems tired of doing the ole Vince Vaughn shtick.  Kevin James is wasted as he is the person the other characters are tap dancing around.  Because of that James never gets a chance to have any good comedy bits.  Jennifer Connolly is Madam Not Appearing in This Film.  Queen Latifa is in a completely different movie.  Channing Tatum gets a few chuckles out of his sensitive thug role.  Winona Ryder is the only one coming out of this movie looking good though.  She gives this movie a far better performance than it deserves.

I didn’t go into this looking to slam Ron Howard.  I actually really like some of the movies he does.  I wasn’t expecting The Dilemma to break the mold or anything, but I was expecting Howard to know tone and storytelling enough to make a good comedy.  You see glimpses here and there of the comedy he wanted to make.  Of the times Vaughn and James actually have scenes to themselves, they actually do have a good chemistry.  There are also good moments from Ryder and Tatum when they play up their roles.  I think if Howard made a true screwball movie about this bromance between Vaughn and James and about how evil Ryder was trying to break them up it would have done a lot better.  Instead we introduce this bad dramatic tone which kills the work Vaughn and James are trying to do.  What you are left with is a badly written snoozefest which was dumped out in January.

I’ll offer some free advice for Ron Howard though to prevent another bomb.  Don’t spend $70 million dollars on a movie that should cost about $5 million to actually make.

Funny People (2009) Judd Apatow

Posted in F on December 12, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $75 million

Worldwide Gross: $71 million

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a comedian who has hit it big with his movie career.  When he discovers he has a terminal illness he reflects on how lonely he is and how unfulfilled he is in his career.  He goes back on the improv circuit and takes on Ira (Seth Rogen), a young green performer, as a protege.

Funny People isn’t really a movie about coping with an illness such as, say, 50/50 which came out this year.  Instead, the illness is merely a way to provide George with self-reflection.  While I don’t know how much of Apatow’s real feelings are a part of this movie, it is partly based on Sandler (whom he lived with early in their careers) and Rogen.  Funny People is seemingly a reflection of fame and the especially cutthroat comedy industry.  Fame itself is cutthroat, but there is something about the way characters in this movie (and potentially in Apatow’s own experience) act especially dog-eat-dog when it comes to being “funny people“.  No one thinks about collaborating with other comedians as they want to protect their jokes like diamonds.  Ira and his friends are on a small surface level, happy of each other’s success, but are incredibly bitter and resentful on the inside.  There are a lot of barbs thrown at one another which could be seen as playful ribbing, but to me it seems more malicious.

There is also this belief that great comedy comes from great tragedy.  So not only is George a loner because he is a greedy, self-obsessed a-hole, but almost because he has more of a desire to keep his comic edge.  I doubt if this was intended, but it is a strange feeling I got about George.  It seems like he is so obsessed about being funny that he subconciously sabotages everything meaningful for some good material.

Funny People took me a while to get to.  This was due to the rather ‘blah‘ reviews coupled with the long running time.  This is just my personal belief of course, but it is a rare comedy that can be great over two hours.  Comedies are at their best when they are streamlined and hit you with their best stuff.  It is hard to keep audiences on that high energy level as you have to with comedies.  Hell, I could go to a comedy show with all of my favorite comedians of all time and I would still get burned out at around the 100 minute mark.  There is only so much hilarity you can take in one sitting before you need to chill out.

Is Funny People one of those rare exceptions for me where it stays great during its 146 minute run time?  Sadly no.  I was actually really liking it through the first two acts before tiring out completely at the two hour mark.  The last act is about George trying to win back former lover Laura (Leslie Mann) from her husband Clarke (Eric Bana).  It is strange that I lauged quite a bit during this act and really liked the performances of Mann and Bana, but still felt this plot line could have been almost completely cut and would have helped the movie.  The romance feels like an afterthought as Laura really has no character or any development despite her screen time.  The point of it all is to show that George didn’t learn anything from his near death experience and is still a selfish ass.  That point really didn’t need to be stretched to over 30 minutes and shows that a few edits would have made this a great movie instead of a good one.

The acting is very good overall.  I have grown to loathe Adam Sandler comedies so I appreciate any time he doesn’t do one of his Happy Madison bowel movements.  He does a fine job although I will say there were times where he was struggling with the dramatic material.  He was asked to do a little too much at times and it comes off as really strained.  The rest of the supporting cast and Rogen in particular are really good though.

As I said before, I was enjoying Funny People quite a bit for a lot of the long running time.  Apatow is able to make these characters, who can act pretty dickish at times, charming and likable at others.  There were many funny moments as there was a good balance of written jokes and seemingly some good improv moments.  I also felt like there was some good depth to the movie with the dramatic elements.

That being said, the movie does lose a ton of steam as it keeps going on and on and on to its two hour and thirty minute end time.  The pacing is way too leisurely, some plot threads meander too much, and some are downright unnecessary.  Apatow does great with the comedy and has some good dramatic ideas, but he falters in actually executing them.  Funny People could have used a few more re-writes and a good editor to tighten everything up.  If you are a fan of Sandler’s usual type of comedy then I don’t think you will like it.  If you like Sandler’s more dramatic turns, then you may want to check it out.  Overall, it is good, but it could have been much better.

Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen) 1985

Posted in P, Woody Allen Retrospective on December 1, 2011 by moviemoses

There are always opposing forces in nature: there is yin and yang, light and dark, good and evil, etc.  Everyone at some point has the “guilty pleasure“.  You know, there is some song or movie or whatever that you should have every reason to hate, but for some reason you enjoy it.  Guilty pleasures get a lot of attention but not so many people bring up the opposing force.  I haven’t really heard a name for it even so I guess I will tenatively call it the “guilty displeasure“.  Those are the movies that you should have every reason to love, but you just can’t get into it.  For example, I really don’t like Gone with the Wind.  I admit that it is epic with gorgeous cinematography, the acting is great, and whatever you want to say about it.  But I just don’t enjoy it.  I’m sure if you gave me enough time and if I really thought about it I could come up with some reasons but I don’t really have the energy to do it.

Purple Rose of Cairo is a “guilty displeasure“ and I am REALLY guilty for not liking it.  I read a lot of reviews and I see several sites list the best and worst Woody Allen movies and all of them list this movie as one of his crowning achievements.  Some people can hate every other stereotypical Woody movie, but will still fall in love with Purple Rose.  I even love Midnight in Paris, a movie which some would accuse Woody of stealing from Purple Rose (which is a crock but that’s a whole other matter).   But I’ve now watched it twice and can’t fully get behind it.

Maybe I have a disagreement over the ending.  Yes, I know what Woody was intending with the ending.  My problem may be with the fact that for 90% of the movie we have the tone of light hearted fantasy and then for the last 10% we have harsh reality crashing down on our main character’s head.  I don’t know how more people aren’t given whiplash by the strong tonal shift.  Or maybe I’m still not completely sold on Jeff Daniels as Tom.  Don’t get me wrong, I usually love Jeff Daniels and I actually think he gives a good performance.  He still doesn’t quite have the look of suave renaissance man with gorgeous looks.  I’m sure that argument could be shot down within the movie by seeing a Fred Astaire movie but like I said, guilty displeasures don’t have the best arguments in the world.

I do really love the concept of the movie and some of the funniest bits are when the characters still stuck in the movie are trying to figure out what to do now that one of the main characters has bolted.  Mia Farrow probably gives her best performance as the always optimistic woman who is constantly getting shat on by society.  Not to mention Woody Allen is once again showing his mastery in making this story work and having the audience be completely won over by the charm of it all.  This is all kinds of counter-intuitive, but I recommend people go out and watch this movie.  This is some of Woody’s best work and I think anyone who hasn’t seen it will be quickly won over by its charm.  This is just one of those times where my brain and my tastes aren’t on the same page.

Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen) 1984

Posted in B, Woody Allen Retrospective on December 1, 2011 by moviemoses

Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a talent agent dealing with the absolute bottom of the barrell talent.  Danny has a chance to finally have one of his singers Lou Canova (Nick Forte) make it big when there is a revival for old lounge singer acts.  Canova’s big opportunity will be at singing for Milton Berle but Canova says he needs his mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) there to get his best performance.  Danny goes to get Tina, but there are complications when Tina doesn’t want to go and when a mob boss thinks Danny is stealing Tina away from him.

Broadway Danny Rose is actually a very simple road movie.  It is no more complicated than say, a Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.  Danny has a short amount of time to get Tina to the gig and wacky shenanigans ensue.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  It is just odd that in this period where Woody is at his most creative and close to the time where he said he wanted to do more serious work that he would do a simple road movie.

Broadway Danny Rose is almost completely carried by the performance of Woody Allen.  Here he is probably at his most nebbish.  He is always flailing his arms around, tossing out one liners like they are going out of style, and not a second goes by that he is not stuttering.  For those of you that hate the typical Woody character, you will absolutely hate this movie because he cranks it up to 11 here.  This is all Woody, all the time.  Hell, I love Woody Allen but there were moments even I wanted him to take his meds.  Allen does ultimately make this movie work as he does have some truly funny lines and makes the character lovable.

I know this one is a very short review but that is because there is not much to this movie.  And again, I don’t mean that in any negative way.  If you love Woody Allen’s characters then I think you will find this a funny movie.  There are one liners a plenty and Allen puts it all out there for a funny performance.  While I didn’t love it, it was a funny little movie.

Zelig (Woody Allen) 1983

Posted in Woody Allen Retrospective, Z on December 1, 2011 by moviemoses

Zelig is a fake documentary about Leonard Zelig (Allen).  Zelig is a person living in the 1920’s who has the uncanny ability to look and act like the people around him.  If he is around doctor’s, he can fake being a doctor, if he is around fat people then he grows to match their size, and so on.  Dr. Fletcher (Mia Farrow) tries to help Zelig because he has no individual personality and always goes along with what the group does.

I had not seen Zelig before, but I was completely surprised.  It is not too often that Woody makes a completely sweet and charming movie but here is one example.  Here is a simple concept but taken with 100% effort and imagination.  The whole movie is shot like a documentary about this long forgotten man.  You have talking heads (played by unknowns) to give the back story and little insights into the character but the rest of it looks like found footage material.  We are shown still photos with Zelig cropped somewhere as some wacky Where’s Waldo.  Then we get grainy silent film of him meeting famous people and being in crowded sites.  All of it feels like stuff that would be logically found about this person and never strains the credibility of the internal logic of the movie.  A lot of effort went into making the movie look that way.  A lot of special effects had to be used to insert Woody into all these old photographs and to make the film look the way it did.  The movie would still look great to audiences today.

Zelig isn’t a movie that is going to have you rolling on the floor laughing.  As I said, this is a very sweet and lovable comedy.  We get the funny premise which is complete with the story of a star’s rise, fall, and rise back to fame again.  But we also get one of Woody’s most endearing characters with Zelig.  He is a shy quiet little man who always figured going with the crowd was the best way to be liked by everyone.  This culminating in the funny climax of Zelig joining the Nazi party and Fletcher having to save him.  During the course of the movie Fletcher helps Zelig find his own personality and realize how important it is to be you.  This is all complete with a nice romance between these two characters.

Like I said, this isn’t a movie that had me laughing a ton but I did love it.  The movie is so charming and so endearing it is hard not to be won over by it.  At a blistering 80 minutes, Zelig never drags and does everything it can with the premise.  This is a Woody film I will be revisiting many times in the future and I recommend you check it out if you are an Allen fan and haven’t checked this one out yet.