The Book Thief

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Release: Friday, November 8, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

The talented, young Sophie Nélisse steps into this significantly bleak lead role as the orphaned Liesel Meminger after her mother leaves her with a German couple during the escalation of World War II. Burdened with an extraordinarily trying existence, Leisel’s pain soon will become your own as you watch her life deteriorate as the movie progresses. Make no mistake: there may be a child actress who’s going to carry the story, but this isn’t exactly candy and unicorns we’re dealing with here. There are no neat bows to tie things off nicely as gifts or holiday surprises. There are just books.

Books and bad government. The Book Thief‘s set against 1940s Germany, as Hitler’s oppressive regime continued to tighten its grip around the necks of everything European, and when life for certain people was at its most intolerable. In the case of wide-eyed Leisel, in fear of getting her daughter also killed her mother, a Russian Communist, abandons her on the doorstep of Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Of course, the girl sees this as nothing but a betrayal, naturally, as she can’t comprehend something like the possibility of getting shipped off to a Concentration Camp at her age. Her new life with her foster parents seems depressing and strange, particularly as her mother is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type.

Rush, on the other hand, plays a kind old man whose care and concern for this troubled child is as evident as his appreciation for the accordion. Saddled with great loneliness, Leisel would desperately like to learn how to read and write since getting publicly humiliated at school one day, and since she doesn’t find much else in the town that interests her.

There is a blonde boy, Rudy Steiner (played by Nico Liersch), who tries to capture Leisel’s attention by showing off his flirt, his athleticism and his political affiliation (seriously, I had no idea Hitler Youths were so naturally inclined to running away — it’s sort of ironic, if you think about it). He’s more or less unsuccessful for the longest time as all Leisel wants to do is read. The only thing she’s brought with her from home is a single, black book, which reminds her of her brother. It’s a simple acting of collecting that will fuel her will to stay alive and try to remain positive, despite the destruction and chaos all around her.

What begins as a habit of reading to her Papa, trying to figure out what certain words mean, evolves into full-fledged obsession with the written word when Leisel meets a strange, quiet woman named Ilsa (Barbara Auer) who shows her an entire library of books. One by one Leisel takes these books and brings them home to read quickly.

An interesting development has rendered her not the only ‘guest’ in the Hubermann’s modest home. A debt from Hans’ past leaves the couple with no option but to shelter a young Jewish boy (Ben Schnetzer) on the run, confining him to their basement so no outsider can see him. So Leisel’s inadvertently picked up a roommate and now enjoys reading to him, showing this newcomer what she has learned.

Reading as a thematic element is used fascinatingly throughout Brian Percival’s sophomore directorial effort. Reading serves many purposes to Leisel: first as a tool to learn and blend in with society; later it blossoms into a source of passion for the young girl who’s torn between wanting to find her real mother again, and staying with her foster parents; later still it becomes a survival guide for her and the townspeople as the effects of war take their toll on Germany. The importance of being literate becomes more symbolic as the stakes are ever raised. Unfortunately, not a great deal of interest is raised with them, however.

What The Book Thief lacks is a significant ‘oomph.’ Like the scores of atomic weapons raining down over Europe from American bomber planes, there should be jumps and uncomfortable scenes aplenty throughout a movie set in such a harrowing time in history. Instead far too much time is invested in the act of reading itself, slowing down the pace of the film to a merciless crawl. Save for two scenes — one in which is quite unnerving as we crowd into a subterranean shelter with everyone and listen to the bombs exploding closer and more violently throughout the world above us — the entire film is bereft of the drama one would expect to find in a story about the persecution of an entire people.

The best thing that can be said about the way in which the director chooses to handle the adaptation of Australian Markus Zusak’s novel might be that it beautifully recreated this dark period. While Leisel’s plight is one deserving attention, her story seems only to fit in as a small jigsaw piece in this never-ending puzzle of why any of this genocide and the subsequent additional loss of life through war had to happen in the first place. Of course, there’s really no obvious answer to that question (if one exists at all), and that’s exactly the kind of thing that makes The Book Thief, an otherwise decent film to look at, such a frustrating chronicle.

Despite the gloominess in places, this is far too safe a tone to make much of a splash in the greater world of film. And it’s certainly not the Oscar-contender it first appeared to be in the trailers, though there are some lines of a thought-provoking nature dotted around the place.

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2-5Recommendation: Becoming dangerously close to being boring in several spots, The Book Thief prefers a quieter, more intimate examination of a brutal period in European history by using one girl’s tragic journey as the vehicle with which we travel through the emotions. Extreme patience is required for this one, as it picks a plodding pace and never really lets up on that until the end. It features good performances, but nothing extraordinary and the bleakness at times might prove wearisome for any who haven’t read the book before watching.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “I am haunted by humans.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Starsky & Hutch (2004)

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Okay, so while I was unable to cook up a post today that would feature a certain bird that we, as Americans, are entitled to gorge ourselves on all day today, I hope that the little symbol thing on the ticket above will suffice for “theming” out this week’s throwback. . . (And while we are at it, let’s not forget the millions of Native Americans we have trampled in getting to this point. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!) After cycling through lists of quote-unquote classic Thanksgiving-related films, it became clear that this was going to be a difficult post to keep aligned with the theme of buddy-feel good comedies AND today’s holiday theme. Also, I came to realize how few films on these lists I had actually seen. There were more than several that would qualify, but unfortunately these titles are only available for DVD delivery through Netflix so they wouldn’t necessarily be here in time to review for today. While Planes, Trains & Automobiles was my film of choice for today, I think what I found instead will do just fine. It may not be one that sits right with everyone, but it qualifies for the two things I’m looking for in films of yesteryear on this month’s TBT

Today’s food for thought: Starsky & Hutch

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Release: March 5, 2004

[DVD]

It’s no hit television show from the seventies but Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are intent on making you believe that they can do it, too.

Annnnnd. . .to some mildly amusing degree, they can. As actors they may not replace the vintage nonchalance of the show’s Paul Michael Graser and David Soul but this contemporary match-up ekes out some pretty good laughs and even a heartfelt moment or two in this loosely-dramatized story of two cops who are first getting to know each other when they’re out busting up huge drug deals in the fictitious Bay City, California.

Much to director Todd Phillips’ credit, his film serves as a prequel of sorts to the events that occur in the four-season-long T.V. series, and as such this story is afforded a greater amount of playing room it might not have otherwise had if it were strictly trying to follow or recreate a particular arc or theme. Indeed, this does succumb to the typical unlikely-partnership formula more often than it reaches for great(er) comedy, but as far as buddy-comedies go, one can do far, far worse than this guns-n-girls “remake.”

As a ‘prequel,’ Starsky & Hutch takes us back to a time where both cops’ egos were largely unknown to one another; where the anally-retentive but street-smart David Starsky was ignorant to the particular charms and intellectual superiority of blond Kenneth ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. Part of the fun of this film is watching the two get to know each other better. No male actor plays ‘looking annoyed’ better than Ben Stiller. And is it just me, or is that crooked nose Owen Wilson has intentionally part of his charm? Either way, the two make for a largely entertaining duo when the plot kicks it into high gear, somewhere near the middle.

Hot-headed Starsky and cool-hand Luke. . .er, Hutch have been charged with chasing down any leads that may uncover drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn)’s ultimate plans for drug distribution in Bay City. He’s been able to concoct a type of cocaine that is completely undetectable. From one coke-head to another, I hope you know that this plot development is simply ludicrous, since the narcotic is virtually undetectable to begin with. This little nuance is something shiny and new that Phillips wanted to add to his story for want of not coming across as ‘lame, ‘square,’ or ‘unhip.’

Also, he thought it’d be totally groovy to give Vince Vaughn something to be upset about. When he learns that one of his drug pushers screwed up his job, he kills him and leaves his body to float up on shore (as they are out on Feldman’s yacht in the open ocean at the time). Insert Starsky and Hutch into the equation (i.e. the reason viewers should care). The two must find and track down the true source of the drug using any means possible: getting into a threesome with cheerleaders, peer-pressuring Snoop Dogg Lion into being a golf caddy, adopting completely ridiculous disguises for some freak named Big Earl (Will Ferrell)’s perverted amusement. There are some other good moments as well, but these are the events that come to define Starsky & Hutch, the movie.

As its own product, it does just well enough subsisting on broad humor and thinly-written, semi-poorly-conceived story developments to pass. A quick browse of mainstream aggregate review sites (Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic) indicates a significantly lower audience rating than its critical consensus, and this I feel is owed more to the fact that this is an entirely different, standalone Starsky & Hutch experience. Stiller, for once is really funny in a lead role and his chemistry with the amiable Owen Wilson is what drives the energetic little narrative. It may not “feel” like a Starsky & Hutch adventure to fans of the old show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this film shouldn’t exist, either.

Besides, that’s the worst case scenario we’re talking about. Most should find this a perfectly entertaining film that won’t involve a great deal of brain exercises.

Stiller and Wilson have an undeniable repartee in this modern adaptation, whilst unexpected contributions are made from the likes of Snoop Dogg Lion (damn it, again!), Vaughn (who really just chews scenery and acts like an asshole), Matt Walsch (as Eddie) and of course, Amy Smart and Carmen Electra as the two cheerleaders. The obligatory cameo from the originals — Graser and Soul — puts Phillips’ comedy over the top and into “acceptable” territory.

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

3-0Recommendation: Though it’s pretty obvious the film was made with an entirely new generation in mind, Todd Phillips’ sense of humor blends well with the classic good-cop/awkward-cop routine. There may not be enough here to convert loyal viewers of the show but for anyone interested in seeing ANYthing Starsky & Hutch-related, this should satisfy the Thanksgiving palate.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Do it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Dallas Buyers Club

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

AIDS sucks. Rednecks’ treatment of animals sucks. The government sucks. For everything else that doesn’t suck, there’s Dallas Buyers Club.

Ron Woodruff would probably approve of my spin on the Mastercard jingle. Well, all except the part about the treatment of animals, as he’s a cowboy himself and couldn’t care less about a raging bull’s balls.

To go off on a little tangent here (because rodeos really make me upset since I think the sport epitomizes the term ‘pointless’) bullriders are mysterious creatures to me. Well, sad really. They sit atop an animal more than five times their size, an animal they’re about to make feel half the size of human beings because the whole point is to dominate the animal for eight seconds; an animal that’s recently and intentionally been enraged by getting its genitalia vice-gripped by some retard rodeo clown. Riders ironically then have this look of terror on their face as soon as the ride begins. When they either succeed or fail at maintaining that short period of time professionally molesting the animal, they run away (or get trampled). Game over. They get points and recognition out of this somehow.

Though the redneck quota may be sky-high, thankfully this film from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée doesn’t focus too terribly much on this grim aspect of certain cultures. Interestingly enough, it errs on the side of the inhumanity towards other humans. In the mid-1980s the height of the fear and misunderstanding surrounding the HIV/AIDS virus had reached its pinnacle. Those who had it were the quote-unquote undesirable types — homosexuals, intravenous drug users, losers, etcetera. This was a disease generally viewed as one that people ‘deserved.’

So when rowdy old Ron (McConaughey) collapses in his trailer home one day and finds himself in the hospital when he next wakes up, the news that he has HIV and hence why he’s so weak lately comes as a great shock. His level of ignorance and intolerance at first matches that of the nation’s in this decade. He can’t stand the idea that he could possibly get a disease like this: “There ain’t nothin’ that can take Ron Woodruff down in 30 days.” While his T-cell count may be down to nine, his brain cell count has to be even lower. However, he’s not so stupid as to avoid researching his situation. And sure as hellfire he discovers that indeed, having drunken and unprotected sex in the filth and squalor of a trailer park with ghastly-looking whores, well shucks. . . that’d sure do it.

That I started off not having high opinions of this character of McConaughey’s speaks to the quality of his performance. After seeing him earlier this year in Mud, it seemed the standard had been set then and there for Best Male Lead Performance, and since then there’s only been maybe a handful of others who might give the titular character a run for his money. But I have a feeling come the Oscars the conversation will oddly not include that role; instead it will focus on his skinny-jeans Ron Woodruff. You will start out hating this man and all of his ridiculous insecurities and phobias, yet come the end of the film you may or may not be weeping for him. Depends on how sturdy you are as a filmgoer, I suppose.

That we end up feeling anything for Woodruff at all, though, is credited to Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and their superb writing — writing that brings rough-around-the-edges characters front-and-center and making them compelling to watch. Woodruff may be a bit of a misanthrope (aren’t all rednecks?) but his motivation for staying alive makes who and what he is that much more complex. While he almost can’t stand being around gay people or transexuals or what-have-you, everything he does in Dallas Buyers Club post-doctor visit is for the betterment of not only himself, but for those who he deems worthy of a fighting chance of survival (anyone who can afford to be in his Buyers Club, that is).

Inspired by events he’s heard about happening in other parts of the country, he starts up a highly illegal Buyers Club of his own in a hotel in Dallas, with the sole purpose being to serve as an alternative treatment center for those with the disease. His experiences with hospitals and advanced medical care — stuff that hasn’t been working at all — has led him to this point. Enlisting the help of a vivacious transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodruff’s rusty exterior slowly starts to peel away, revealing a softer man who is far more altruistic than his environment might otherwise suggest.

Speaking of Leto, it’s good to see that his band 30 Seconds to Mars allowed him to take some much-needed time off, so he could starve himself down to 114 pounds for this role. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club might actually top a career-defining one from his co-star. At the very least, what Leto had to do to get into character here was a bit more complicated. On one level, he’s playing a man who seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, and on another, he’s a man stricken with this horrible disease that is wasting his body away. Some of the more powerful imagery in this film stem from scenes in which Leto’s present. Coupled with an infectious attitude that his Rayon has, Leto might well be more memorable than McConaughey here, though that’s not to say one truly outweighs the other. Combined, the two put on a most transformative show and are fully convincing, in every sense of the word. They keep this rather sad affair afloat.

Jennifer Garner is also quite spectacular, playing the conflicted Dr. Eve Saks, who is one of the first to tell Woodroof he has a mere 30 days left to live. The doc’s role is a particularly tricky one, what with having to tow the line between policies and procedures set forth by her institution, as well as showing that she truly cares about her patients with a terminal illness. Deftly balancing her character’s professionalism with some strong emotional moments, Garner, while never being an actress I’ve kept an eye on, suits the scene just fine here and in many cases she bears too much of the burden herself. In some ways she is as tragic as the people who are physically suffering.

The sum total of Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t end up arriving at the most profound conclusions that the dedication of its lead actors here more often than not suggests. The story arc, unpredictable as it is, is sort of a one-way street, which in some ways makes the concept feel limited. But it’s within the performances where this movie really lies. Its cast is dedicated to providing physically accurate renderings of this brutal illness, which is enough of a basis to recommend this film on alone. Getting into the personalities behind the Dallas Buyers Club, however. . .well that’s another story entirely.

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4-5Recommendation: This is a performance-driven piece, so if you are into that sort of thing, Dallas Buyers Club should have you covered. More specifically. . . McConaughey seems to have hit his stride as a dramatic actor. Between this and his fugitive from this spring, he has this year alone turned in some of the more compelling anti-heros that I personally can recall in years. But I would like to again emphasize this isn’t just the McSkinny-hey show. Leto gives it his all here as well, humanizing a kind of person many typically turn a blind eye to. After a four-year hiatus, it is good to see him also returning in fine form. . .even if his physique here betrays the concept of ‘fine form.’

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Release: Friday, November 22, 2013

[Theater]

After struggling to find a decent seat at a showing at 3 in the afternoon, it would seem I had seriously underestimated the frenzy that The Hunger Games had thrown the world into; although I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite all of my hesitations as I watched the original — the first of three adaptations of Suzanne Collin’s brilliant dystopian vision of the American future.

Given the surprising quality of the first, it should’ve been easy, then, to see how the forthcoming sequel would stir an even larger wave of enthusiasm ($25.3 million on Thursday night alone, to be precise). To put this ridiculous number in perspective, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the most successful midnight-opening in box office history, earned $43 million in its first wave of Thursday night showings. This film wasn’t close to topping that, but given the circumstances (this being only installment number two, rather than being the final chapter in an eight-film-long franchise, and also being a considerably more obscure story than that of that magical little wizard) I’d say the odds will forever be in this adaptation’s favor.

The dizzying numbers, which are projected to skyrocket internationally and over the course of this weekend, shouldn’t really come as a surprise either, because everything that made 2012’s The Hunger Games such an engaging and enjoyable experience is further refined and expanded upon in Catching Fire.

Purists are sure to find some fault in how some specifics of Collins’ novel may be overlooked, but a tremendous amount of credit must be given to both directors Gary Ross (who helmed the first) and Francis Lawrence because both films have proven to be incredibly immersive experiences, capable of standing on their own, touching on everything from simple teenage heartache to the complex morality play at work involving the politics of this new world we’re arrested into.

At the heart of Collin’s novels lies the disturbingly oppressive political regime that dominates all of what remains of a post-apocalyptic North America, which has now been divided into 13 districts, all presided over by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the Capitol. The Capitol is the central point from which all evil is derived in this compelling drama about choice versus destiny. One woman, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), dared to defy the pre-existing “rules” set in place by winning the 74th annual Hunger Games in the previous film using unorthodox methods. Because of her actions, two tributes (the people chosen from each district to fight to the death in these games) are left standing: herself, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Without explaining away too much, the circumstances at the time were certainly dire enough, and to think that Katniss would end up getting away with this act of defiance unscathed, well you’d be dead wrong.

Hence, where we are now.

Catching Fire picks up almost directly off the back of its predecessor by showing the two winners obliging in a ‘Victor’s Tour,’ where the pair will go around to each and every district and make themselves known as the (read: perceived) true symbols of hope throughout the land. Katniss, being the fiercely intelligent protagonist that she is, knows that behind this facade of fake smiles and ill-begotten honor lies something that’s truly worth fearing. The games weren’t exactly fun, but they indeed were just ‘games.’

As it turns out, President Snow is well aware of Katniss’ adaptability and of her rare ability to think for herself. In fear of a resurgence of spirit amongst the millions of downtrodden and hopeless residents of each district and the inevitable rebellion thereof against the Capitol, Snow makes Katniss aware of the hell she is going to pay for giving the good people of Panem hope.

The ensemble from 2012’s games return here in fine form once again. Elizabeth Banks turns in one of her most inspired role choices for the second time as Effie Trinket, someone who looks like she just emerged from Willy Wonka Land dressed up in attire that would make Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby costume designers jealous. Woody Harrelson is back as the supportive, fun- alcohol-having Haymitch Abernathy, the survivor of the 50th Hunger Games; so too is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ costume designer and stylist; and Liam Hemsworth returns as the side-lined love interest for Katniss, Gale Hawthorne.

We are treated to newcomers, also: a pivotal character emerges at the culmination of the Victor’s Tour. Katniss meets a man named Plutarch Heavensbee (because they couldn’t find a less goofy name) who’s portrayed by the immensely talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, a casting choice that only cemented Catching Fire further as one of the year’s finest offerings. We also see new faces in new tributes, as a significant portion of the film is dedicated to the Third Quarter Quell — a special edition of the games in which a rule is changed. . . to make things interesting. To make the districts suffer for their previous insurgencies in the past. A cast this large and this inspired deliver terrific performances all around, giving the second elaborate step in the series an energy unlike any other.

But perhaps the strongest, most resonant aspect to the Hunger Games is also the same thing that drives the characters to do what they do: an incredible sense of fear. For us, it’s the fear of what we think may or may not happen to Katniss next (or for those who have already read the books, you know what is about to go down in some cases) — as the audience our fear is of the visual; but for the characters its a palpable fear of death, a fear of losing their loved ones, a fear of entering the hunger games again. Injustice, both physical and psychological, swells to nearly unbearable proportions in moments throughout Catching Fire. What Katniss, her fellow tributes and loved ones have to endure at times is painful, but it’s all attributable to the solid screenplay penned by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy. The general brutality of the oppression is appropriately given an extra dose of severe in the sequel.

At the same time, one should expect some incredibly beautiful things to happen as well. As per the excellent writing, Katniss as the central figure simply defines the term ‘burdened.’ The consequences of the first film have increased the spotlight on her throughout Panem, and she’s caught the close attention of President Snow himself. The pressure has mounted for her to demonstrate her love for Peeta, convince the nation. As Haymitch observes, her private life has become [theirs]. Given the complexity of someone like Katniss and especially the psychological element at play here — the live-broadcasted television shows that feature a host (Stanley Tucci) too frightening for me to describe being the most illustrious moments of this aspect — this film handles it all remarkably well. Not only is the character allowed to develop far more than she does in the first, the intriguing premise set up by Collins’ novels blends smoothly with it, creating one of the most exciting films released all year. Nevermind it being a sequel.

All of the elements that made its predecessor the hit that it was is evident here, only amplified. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours in length, Catching Fire is The Dark Knight of Collins’ vision on paper.

Without a doubt, this is how you adapt a book into a film (says the guy who hasn’t read the books yet). Don’t worry, I will be shortly.

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4-5Recommendation: Francis Lawrence bats it out of the park in terms of appealing to genre devotees and general audiences alike. I believe at least three screenings tonight sold out at at least one theater in my area. The movie is set to produce near-record numbers after a weekend and expanded international release. Catching Fire is a movie you won’t be able to avoid, but don’t think of that as the groan-inducing kind of side-effect associated with something gone mad-popular, but more as a sign of appreciation for a film that got things right.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Let it fly.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Anger Management (2003)

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Even though today’s entry is indeed an Adam Sandler picture, this one retains a little bit of value. At least with me it does. Until I am being overthrown by another writer on this blog, Sandler has a decent chance of me actually sticking up for his antics. . . just this one time. Whatever it is about this match-up, it works, and works well; though what comes out of this film is nothing unusual and nothing that wouldn’t sway opinion necessarily of the guy one way or another either, but somewhere in here there’s gold and it also qualifies as being ‘feel-good.’ 

Today’s food for thought: Anger Management

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Release: April 11, 2003

[DVD]

In this episode, Sandler gets tasered by an overzealous airline marshall, gets his ass kicked by a Buddhist monk, and finds out that his really cute girlfriend might have eyes for someone else. If this sounds to you like every other Sandler comedy ever made, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Thanks to Anger Management‘s casting director this film gets infinitely more interesting because of the pairing of another angry Sandler with an equally off-the-handle Jack Nicholson, as they star in this somewhat memorable comedy as Dave Buznik and Dr. Buddy Rydell, respectively.

After getting into a tussle with a flight attendant, Dave finds himself court-ordered to undergo several weeks of anger management/therapy. It is there that he runs across Dr. Rydell again — it’s the same man he sat with on the plane (who may or may not have started all of this). Making the mistake of assuming this guy is on his side leads Dave to think the therapy session will not only be easy to get through, but ultimately something he won’t have to endure. Unfortunately, things don’t go well during his first session and his temperament is revealed to everyone quickly. This is when Rydell recommends that the number of sessions should be doubled.

Under Rydell’s supervision, Dave finds his life becoming more and more oppressive. First he’s forced to partner up with the insufferable Chuck (John Turturro) and participate in some kind of demented buddy-system, wherein each person is meant to be able to vent frustration to someone outside of the class. Lucky for Dave, he’s been saddled with the worst of the worst. The two prove to be trainwreck waiting to happen, and indeed Dave snaps again at a bar, forcing Judge Daniels (Lynne Thigpen)’s gavel yet again. She demands that Mr. Buznik undergo intensified, round-the-clock therapy which would required Dr. Rydell to move in with him and completely overhaul his life.

As the movie goes on, Rydell steps up the ridiculousness with each of his lessons, requiring Dave to stop everything and anything that might trigger anger and even make audio notes of any progress he’s making. Apparently part of the treatment will also involve getting felt up by Woody Harrelson-as-transvestite:

Eventually Dave finds himself unable to tolerate the seeming injustices that are being done to him, as he doesn’t consider himself to be THAT angry of a person. He reaches his breaking point when Buddy suggests that Dave and his girlfriend (Marissa Tomei) take a break for awhile.

Anger Management is by no means a brilliant movie, but it suffices as a decent buddy-comedy that takes Sandler and Nicholson to some pretty funny places. It’s minor work for Jack, that’s for sure, but interestingly enough, Sandler becomes much more watchable when the two begin to really bump heads late in the film (literally and figuratively). Nicholson is clearly having a nice time collecting a paycheck and making up words like “gooze-frabba” and spouting out silly one-liners that seem to only enrage Sandler’s character.

The interplay between the two leads, along with some highlights from John C. Reilly, Harrelson, and Heather Graham works well enough to carry this film for an hour and forty-five minutes.

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3-5Recommendation: This won’t change the minds of anyone who’s already opposed to Adam Sandler’s school of comedy but at the same time, it’s not like this is Sandler at his most obnoxious, either. (We might leave that distinction up for grabs among his more dismal failures Jack & Jill, Zohan and That’s My Boy.) However, if you do buy into the fact that Sandler just likes to have a good time on-set — this must have been a real treat for him getting to work alongside a legend like Jack — and make movies about the good times he and his Hollywood friends share, Anger Management is a good one to pick up and talk over for half the time. Sometimes films are best watched half-heartedly.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Aningaaq (Gravity “spin-off”)

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Release: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 

[Vimeo]

Written by: Jonás Cuarón

Directed by: Jonás Cuarón

In case you departed Earth recently and don’t know yet, the film Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón was nothing short of a revolution in filmmaking, albeit mostly from a technical standpoint. While still selling a considerable number of buckets of popcorn for being a seemingly high-brow sci-fi adventure film, the legend to proceed it will be much more for the sheer brilliance of its scientific accuracy, visual depictions of life in space and its usage of sound — specifically, the lack thereof.

So authentic in its visual detail and human emotion, Gravity seems to be one of those films that you simply can’t get enough of. If you’re going to see it in theaters, it’s one that must be done in 3D (yes, I just said that) and on the IMAX screen. Twice in a row. Some of the more hardcore of us may feel that even that’s not enough to satiate the appetite; fortunately, the brilliant director’s son, Jonas, is where and whom we should turn to next.

Not more than a day ago, it was revealed that Jonas had conceived of a 7-minute short film that shows what goes down on the other side of the desperate calls Sandra Bullock’s Doctor Ryan Stone makes to Earth to try and get help. The film, titled Aningaaq, deals with a major plot point in the film, and it should really go without saying here that if you have yet to see the full-length feature, you should not watch this short until you do. This WILL ruin the film for you, if you aren’t careful.

With that said, Aningaaq is pure brilliance, and serves as a fascinating companion piece to one of 2013’s most eerie and tense dramas. As was the case with the full-length feature, Aningaaq is similarly fraught with tension, though it’s far more limited and not as complex. It is nevertheless a must-see featurette for those who experienced Doctor Stone’s ordeal with isolation in space; it’s important to hear and see what the world is like on the other end of a poor radio signal that is effectively your only tether to the rest of humanity when you’re in orbit.

Ingeniously answering a major question some (if not all) viewers likely have, had or will have in a pivotal and highly emotional scene towards the end, these seven minutes of footage also serve as a good heads-up of what to look for come the awards ceremony, paying particular attention to the short film category. This strange title (referring to the Inuit man featured here) should be one mentioned at some point.

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To watch the film yourself (again, please see the actual film first) click the link below, which will take you to the Hollywood Reporter. Enjoy!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gravity-spinoff-watch-side-sandra-657919

4-5Recommendation: Given that you. . . well, er. . .liked Gravity, this will undoubtedly help establish an even bigger appreciation of what was just accomplished in this supremely intelligent piece of cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 7 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmaffinity.com; http://www.screenrant.com 

The Best Man Holiday

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Release: Friday, November 15, 2013

[Theater]

Reunited — and it feels so good!!!

For a film that’s been released nearly forty days removed from it’s wintery afflatus, The Best Man Holiday sure knows how to ring in the holiday spirit in very appropriate, and surprisingly emotional doses. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother) gathers up another impressive ensemble cast in. . . whew, here we go:

Morris Chestnut, Taye Briggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau Jr., Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Melissa DeSousa, John Michael Higgins, Eddie Cibrian, and Monica Calhoun — for a sequel that is now 14 years in the making.

As a follow-up to Lee’s hit The Best Man, it might be difficult to think of this film as anything more than a shameless cash-grab. However, one would be wrong to dismiss it thusly; there is some reward in seeing all the guys back together for Christmas, gathering at Lance (Chestnut) and Mia (Calhoun)’s gorgeous mansion for a celebration of life, love and Michael Jackson impressions. It’s certainly not free of every cliche, every convenience and every seasonal trope you can think of, but that doesn’t necessarily doom this flick.

Coming into any sequel blindly can make that experience tough to sit through without getting too confused or losing interest; fortunately because this is a feel-good movie and the ensemble cast has strong chemistry — it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if half the time Terrence Howard isn’t even in character while cameras are rolling — the story actually moves along at a comfortable pace, enough to make certain loose ends easy to ignore (again, if you’re coming in without seeing the original).

Years removed from a bitter rivalry that sent Lance and Harper (Diggs) on their separate ways, Harper finds himself growing desperate to reclaim his status as a successful, published author having struggled for years to do so. His latest idea is to track down his former best friend Lance for a biography since he’s retiring from a career playing for the New York Giants. With encouragement from family and friends Harper and his wife accept the Sullivan’s invitation to join them for a Christmas celebration, but Harper needs to find a way to put his and his buddy’s differences aside for the sake of him getting. . .well, paid.

Because, you know. . . nothing says brotherhood more than exploiting your friends for financial gain, especially during the time of Jesus’ birth. Call it a Christmas un-miracle.

Over the course of a weekend (?) friends will bump heads and bump uglies. . . and one soon-to-be-mommy’s bump gets bigger. Indeed, you do have the whole stocking of good feelings (and some bad) in this two-hour-long comedy. Most of the scene-stealing moments come from Terrence Howard’s  Quentin, who is always there to lighten the mood whenever things become too dramatic. But others have their moments as well, including a surprisingly enjoyable Melissa De Sousa as a Real Housewife of Somewhere whose job it is is to be the drama queen. Reading that may cause eyes to roll, but she’s actually quite funny.

Yet, for all of its conviviality, The Best Man Holiday also offers up a more somber subplot that may not have managed to hit so close to home in The Best Man. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say Lee’s follow-up to his successful first ensemble film ends up sending us home with a little bit to think about. In one particular scene Lance is heartbreaking to watch. Fortunately friends like Quentin will always have their boys’ backs, and no moment might be better than when Howard steps forward and cuts the silliness, if just for a second.

The Best Man Holiday is ultimately not anything too special, but it managed to exceed the low expectations I had of it coming in, especially having no previous knowledge of the movie that came before it. I may have broken a personal rule of mine regarding seeing sequels, but no harm, no foul in this case.

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3-0Recommendation: It may feature an all-black cast, but this is certainly not a race-related flick, which really affords more credit to director Malcolm D. Lee. See The Best Man Holiday to get you into the Christmas cheer that much sooner, and also for a very light night out at the theater. It’s a solidly-acted and comfortably-paced two hours filled with some chuckles, a bit of tension and the usual drama amongst life-long friends.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Blue is the Warmest Color

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Release: Friday, October 25, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

A film already mired in controversy surrounding it’s director and one of the lead stars, Léa Seydoux, stirs up a conversation I don’t think a great many of us have had at the theaters, perhaps ever. I think that’s because most conversations had when filing out of the exit doors don’t involve primarily talking about the sex scenes. If a movie was good, they’ll be remembering other things about the story, plot, etc, and maybe, yes, if there is a bit of that in there it’s an afterthought; but here is one that has already ignited a strong debate simply over it’s sexual content.

Understandable in some ways.

Blue is the Warmest Color subsists on a healthy diet of passionate (and quite frankly committing) love scenes, ones that become starkly contrasted against moments of suffering, loneliness and heartbreak, as well as anything and everything in between. Throughout this sprawling epic one comes to realize the ultimate circle of an intense love affair. Along with it, all the pains and the pleasures. Feelings on both ends of the spectrum are treated with Abdel Kechiche’s undivided attention. And it’s only fair that we give ours to them.

At the center of what’s being pitched as not your traditional relationship, is the fifteen-year-old Adele, a high school student who appears to distance herself from most people. We don’t at first know what the reasons are for her aloofness, but over time we can tell she is certainly conflicted with getting intimate with another person — in particular, this one guy in her class all her friends are urging her to start talking to. Finding herself practically cornered, Adele ends up sleeping with Samir (Salim Kechiouche), though soon she’ll encounter a blue-haired girl one day at a crosswalk. Her life will be irrevocably changed.

The moments throughout Blue that play out subtly are intentionally kept to a minimum, yet when they do happen they are brilliant. The moment the two find each other’s eyes for the first time is one such pivotal scene, setting the course of the rest of the film.

Perhaps its the fact that this is a foreign production — one that has garnered the supposedly straight actresses and its also-supposedly misogynistic director praise of the highest order at the Cannes Film Festival in the form of Palme d’Ors all around — that gives the proceedings an organic, dramatic feel; a delicate warmth and stone-cold conviction, flourishes that likely could have been stamped out if handled by American filmmakers. One can certainly argue that this film is a style all to Kechiche’s own, though. Whatever that quality might be is difficult to describe exactly, but the emotions contained within this sweeping chronicle of love feel earned rather than just given.

Adele finds herself overwhelmed with desire the night after she first sees her, and this prompts her to go out looking for the woman in night clubs around the area. (An argument for stalking could be made.) When she enters a lesbian club deep into the evening, she finds her again. It is here we get our first impressions of the pair’s on-screen chemistry — intoxicating right from the get-go. The girl’s name is Emma, and as a fourth-year fine arts student, its clear there’s some age difference between the two. Confident, stylish and matured, Emma finds herself also drawn to Adele’s touch. What starts off as a mutual attraction quickly evolves into a torrid love affair, making for some of the most immersive scenes modern filmgoers are likely to ever find.

Some part of me wants to label a couple of these extensive sex scenes as gratuitious. Similar to the way in which slavery is depicted in Steve McQueen’s haunting biopic 12 Years a Slave, the content at times reaches shocking extremes. But this part of me is the part that is awkward and uncomfortable. This is the part of me that doesn’t quite understand the dynamics of these relationships (perhaps relationships at all, for that matter), and since these cumulative 30-ish minutes of sex have been bashed by the gay community as being “clearly sex scenes filmed with heterosexual actresses,” it seems that perhaps even the director himself doesn’t, either. Admittedly there are a few shots that remain in the final cut that seem like they could easily have been done away with in previous edits, but they remain; a time or two the camera lingers on a particular body part for a second or two unnecessarily.

Regardless of one’s personal views, these moments are the reasons why Blue is an inherently controversial post on DSB. They also account for the rumors circulating that those involved in its creation had terrible experiences with it all. It’s a shame, this gray area.

A film that dedicates itself to raw truths about love shouldn’t get drowned out by the news of what goes on behind closed doors. Certainly at this point the controversy far outweighs the product. At least, to certain people it does. However it’s not appropriate for me to really weigh in on that myself, nor would I really be able to. From a filmgoer’s perspective, Blue is the definitive story about love. Forget about things like Titanic and Pearl Harbor — epic love stories tied into historical tragedies for the sake of widening the potential audience. Forget how convincing Anne Hathaway or Rachel McAdams or Julia Roberts is in any rom-com. Forget the classic, timeless fable that is The Princess Bride. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s relationship with their audience is about as intimate as the one they share on-screen, and the experience here is greatly improved because of it.

Boasting performances that would seem to transcend what’s required of method actors, Blue is ingenious in its expansive run time because it allows a single relationship to naturally grow and shrink over time, providing us with more than simply a snapshot of life on the big screen, something which most movies don’t have the luxury of affording due to more modest time constraints. This is a film that likes to take its time, sampling and appreciating the little things in life along the way.

Sometimes it’s the little things that end up consuming a great deal of who and what we are.

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4-5Recommendation: I find that I simply cannot dish out a perfect rating for this one based on the graphic nature of some of the scenes. This is like asking whether or not I would have given one to The Passion of the Christ (had that story actually been more than just simple torture), given all of its bloodletting. That’s not to say this film is one-dimensional, in fact it’s the furthest from it. But in all good conscience I can’t call what is ostensibly an adult film a “Must See” film. Still, it’s one that a great many filmgoers should see because it features one of the most open and honest relationships ever put to film. I applaud everyone on that, despite the film’s many issues, on and off the set.

Rated: NC-17

Running Time: 187 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

About Time

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013

[Theater]

For the price of admission to this one they ought to give you an entire box of tissues — they can come in handy here. Richard Curtis delivers the world the feel-good/tear-jerking film of the year, bar none few.

About Time is, well. . .if you want to see a tired genre getting a facelift — a good one, not one of those sloppy jobs that make you wonder what that person just had and now no longer does — go see this one. Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams light up the screen like few cinematic couples have since Ryan Gosling and she did way back when. Before we go name-calling and accusing Allie of two-timing her beloved Noah, I need to gush even more and say Gleeson and McAdams are perhaps the more believable, romantic pairing. This film benefits tremendously from an all-around lovable cast including Bill Nighy (Hot Fuzz; Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows) and Lindsay Duncan (Under the Tuscan Sun) as Tim’s parents, and Lydia Wilson as Tim’s oddball sister, Kit-Kat.

This film may be getting bashed for its sentimentality, and there’s probably some level of validity to the criticism, but honestly these folks are grossly overlooking the overall experience of this film. The logic to its central plot and even perhaps the way it’s carried out is questionable, sure, but hey, at least it’s inventive. Infectiously so.

After turning 21 and having failed miserably in his most recent attempts to pick up a girlfriend over a New Year’s party, Tim’s father sits him down for a chat. But instead of the birds-and-the-bees he gets a little inside scoop on a curious family secret. Since the beginning of. . .whenever. . .the men in the family have been able to travel back in time. Tim simply dismisses this as a strange joke at first (of course), but his dad urges him to try it out for himself. All he has to do is go to a small, dark room and close his eyes and clench his fists, thinking about a moment in time he’d like to go back to. Wham. He’s there.

As one might imagine, with a “gift” of being able to go back into the past, the possibilities are limitless as to what any of us would do with it. Tim uses his abilities to find the perfect girl to make his life complete. Admittedly, the film’s objective is pretty one-dimensional, but the value of family-building and finding love in the most unexpected ways is a hard concept to rail against, so it’s necessary to suppress the urge to call this movie too-pat.

I should back up a little bit actually. About Time isn’t necessarily exclusively about lovemaking and forming families; it also reminds one of the impossibility of living inside the perfect moment all the time. As Tim comes to find, even with the ability to go back to these moments, it can’t be done. Life forces us to move forward, day-by-day, taking whatever comes at us. Curtis’ inventive narrative here is extremely intriguing in this regard. How would you manage your life with this kind of insight? What would you take and what would you leave? As Nighy’s perpetually-charming father warns, “You have to use it to make your life the way you want it to be.”

This film’s charm is responsible for it rising to near the top of my list of favorite romantic-comedies of all-time (now, granted that’s not a huge list, but this is still a huge surprise given the material and my film preferences). The scene in which the emotions and dialogue feel forced or tailored to Hollywood’s liking is impossible to find here. This is the trump card, above Mary and Tim’s relationship; this above the father-son relationship; this above the love a brother has for another sibling.

It’s a film not without its flaws and cliches, but it’s about time a film of this kind of discerning quality is made. The contemporary landscape of romantic-comedies/fantasies is a barren wasteland of instantly forgettable stories that typically go in one direction — straight to the happy ending. That’s all well and good, and that’s not to say Curtis’ film doesn’t trend similarly, but in the process of this story being told, we actually feel like we learn a thing or two about a complicated family dynamic. Or more importantly, about the complexities of families in general.

At the very least, Tim’s father admits that he’s used his ability to time travel to go back and catch up on reading all the novels and books he could ever imagine being able to read. Between this idea and the interactions between the main characters, this film feels lightyears more mature than others of its kind.

I absolutely lost myself in this special little film. What a lovely surprise.

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4-0

Recommendation: A film for those who don’t mind tearing up quite a bit throughout, and for those who appreciate a well-acted and thoughtful meditation on what family means, why they matter and how they come to be.  See also: a healthy alternative to any romantic comedy made within the last ten or fifteen years. This is very much a film to determine whether or not you should see it based on its audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (85%); rather than the critical consensus (68%). Seems a little ironic to write that on a blog that critically analyzes films, but hey. . .I’d rather speak the truth than get all up on my high horse like I usually do.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “You can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: I Love You, Man (2009)

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This may be pushing the limits that I sort-of (but not really at all) established about how recent a movie can be to qualify for this throwback feature, but darn it if today’s entry doesn’t qualify for one of the more memorable buddy-comedies. . . ever. It’s a slight film, but it’s also infectiously feel-good, and a delightfully breezy way to spend an hour and a half with a film. Such are the simple qualifications for the throwbacks of this month! Hope you enjoy. 

Today’s food for thought: I Love You, Man

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Release: March 20, 2009

[Theater]

Paul Rudd seems to be able to work a smile onto anyone’s face, no matter whom he’s working alongside, or in front of what audience persuasion he may be performing. He’s got this easy charm to him that is impossible to resist. (And if you can, then you’re simply jealous of not being quite as cool as he is.)

Then, when you pair him off with someone like Freaks & Geeks‘ Jason Segel — an equally lovable goofball who’s as gangly and awkward as he is tall — the only thing left a director needs to do with his film is scout the locations. The movie is already written, just by casting these two sincerely funny men. To me, for some reason the script for I Love You, Man is so natural and organic it wouldn’t be a great surprise to learn that half of it was improvised. Yet, at the same time, names like Rudd and Segel aren’t quite huge enough to drown out the rest of the cast; instead, they blend perfectly with the rest, creating one of the most enjoyable buddy-comedies in recent years.

John Hamburg (Along Came Polly)’s film follows Peter Klaven (Rudd) around town as he goes on a mission to find a Best Man for his upcoming wedding to the beautiful Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones). Having learned of the, shall we say, ‘deep’ conversations his fiancé has been having with her girlfriends, Peter has a rude awakening — he has never been one to have platonic friendships. With the women, he’s always been a girlfriend kind of guy, and as Peter’s younger brother (a gay Andy Samberg) puts it, “all his male friends just sort of fell to the wayside.”

Peter’s an ace at selling homes — specifically, bungalos, low-rise apartments. . .that sort of thing. One day he’s given an opportunity to sell a house way out of his league — namely, the multi-million dollar mansion belonging to none other than Lou Ferrigno, “the Hulk, from television.” During an open house for this spectacular property, he comes across the amiable, albeit strange, Sydney Fife (Segel) and the two strike up a conversation about cars, finger foods, and farting in open houses. It appears to be the first honest interaction Peter’s had with a stranger in quite some time, and the two begin hanging out often, becoming fast friends.

Ironically it’s this Sydney who is now responsible for Peter’s increasing distance from Zooey, who is initially beyond-excited for Peter’s latest “man-date” with this unseen Sydney guy, but as time goes on, the new relationship starts to pose as a threat to the soon-to-be-wed couple. Peter can’t prioritize his time. Even worse, he is so socially awkward he doesn’t realize that compartmentalizing friendship doesn’t realistically work. Since Sydney and Peter have such great bromantic chemistry, Peter’s thinking this is clearly the guy to be at his wedding. Yet Sydney thinks Peter’s just lonely and in need of a friend (which is also true).

I Love You, Man is a heartwarming comedy featuring fine work from both Rudd and Segel, who play off one another’s energy throughout the entire film. The film also offers an ensemble cast putting forth quite the effort as well, with hilarious performances from Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressley (as the gleefully dysfunctional married couple Zooey is friendly with); Sarah Burns as Hailey, Zooey’s beyond-desperately single friend; and Rob Huebel playing Peter’s obnoxious co-worker, Tevin Downey.

This particular film may not take you to any new places in terms of the type of comedy and it doesn’t offer locations that will stick in your mind long afterwards, yet that’s all part of the unassuming beauty of I Love You, Man — it’s so grounded in reality that one can hardly tell where real life and the cinematic life in this one converge.

As a piece of popcorn entertainment, its surprisingly substantial in that this speaks volumes about the insecurities people are bound to have when getting married. Is everything in the right order? What’s going to change when we are married, particularly the friendships? There’s nothing that’s profound as such, but the message contained herein is just sweet enough and important enough to keep this film at the top of the pile in terms of quality buddy-comedies. An incredible on-screen chemistry between two comedic pros helps ensure this. As well, our romantic couple feel so natural, forming a charming relationship that you cannot wait to see finally tie the knot at long last.

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4-0Recommendation: John Hamburg’s latest is by no means a timeless classic, but as far as contemporary feel-good’s are concerned, this one has remarkable staying power. This is earned from the great interactions between Rudd and Segel who form a believable, lovable friendship, and the rest of the cast do lovely work all around as well. For as many decently rude jokes that are sprinkled throughout, this is also a surprisingly mature film, one that shouldn’t be missed for comedy devotees.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.bayoucityflyers.com; http://www.imdb.com